LARGO -- The State Attorney will not pursue three Largo politicians (two presently sitting on the City Commission) for alleged election violations.
Commissioners Pat Gerard and Harriet Crozier and Pat Burke, a former commissioner, got a clean bill of health from the prosecuter after a second probe.
An initial investigation showed no "willful" violations, according to Bob Lewis, the assistant state attorney who conducted the probe.
In first initial investigation, the accused said they did not know that giving donations to candidates was against the law; that they had never heard of the prohibition.
When the record and video of the June 22, 2004 meeting of the commission turned up the information that the subject had been discussed, Lewis held a second investigation.
That probe, on which he submitted a report May 17, whitewashed the accusations despite an obvious shortcoming in memory or truth telling and ended the matter as far as the prosecutor's office is concerned with no action.
One enduring factor is that prosecutors are loath to get involved in municipal matters of this nature.
Even though the State Attorney has taken a "hands off" position, the matter of the illegal donations did not excuse the City Commission from exercising its duty and responsibility under Section 2.07 of the charter which says that an elected official "violating any prohibition contained in the charter" shall be removed.
The prosecutor's May 17 report has some amusing sidelights. The idea that violations were "willful" became "knowingly." The two words are virtually legally synonymous, but to some there might be a more gentle denotation in "knowingly" as opposed to "willful."
The violations were also referred to as "small" campaign donations, although the controlling law does not distinguish between small, large or in-between.
In contradistinction to the accused professing no knowledge of the prohibition against political donations, Lewis's report cites Mayor Bob Jackson as being "quite knowledgeable" about the history of the prohibition.
During the investigation, City Manager Steve Stanton asserted that donations by elected officials was common and frequent. A check of the record proves that not to be the case.
Running through the report was theme of faulty memories -- on the part of Burke, Gerard, Crozier, Stanton and Alan Zimmet, Largo's part time city attorney who gets paid about $2,000 a week and is proposed for another raise.
While it is apparently not illegal for commissioners who might be running for office to receive donations, Stanton made a point of some who did, according to the report, a move, apparently, to further confuse the situation.
And, mistakenly, Stanton included Charlie Harper, a former commissioner, as one of those receiving funds. Harper took umbrage at this and exacted a retraction from Stanton who, typically, profusely apologized after the damage was done.
One amusing sidelight was a footnote in the report that gives a text book explanation of the responsibility of a prosecutor to seek justice, not convictions.
Although the accused averred no memory of having had a discussion at a public meeting of the rule against giving political donations, Lewis said he found no evidence of "any false statements."
The report cites some of the mean-spiritedness and invective that commissioners and their friends have leveled at each other. This aspect of politics in Largo is becoming more and more evident as witness the cutting remarks at the commission's May 17 meeting which took on the semblance of a family fight with long buried resentments and hatreds surfacing.
A reference in the report to "several of the (commissioners) appear to be talking at the same time, talking about different things, and each seems to be focusing on some particular matter that seems to be important to them" bears out the "hen house" aspect of the commission that many citizens have noted.
In the penultimate paragraph of the report, Lewis refers to the prohibition against donations as a "largely obscure provision" of the charter, although it is in the same size type and would appear to be as worthy as any other aspect of the charter.
One observer noted that the report appeared to use the technique of conclusion first (no violation) and then through rational analysis find the facts to support the conclusion.
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