LARGO - Commissioner Rodney Woods threw off the shackles imposed by a recently adopted legislative policy and told colleagues at Largo's July 11 City Commission meeting that he would use the time for commissioner comments to talk about what he thought was essential.
When that subject was out of the way, Woods made a request for a copy of legal expenses paid by the city to Alan Zimmet, the city lawyer. In doing so, he may have opened a Pandoraa's box of startling information.
In the first instance, Woods set off a stink bomb that sent Mayor Pat Gerard into a tizzy with grim faced, hard bitten, snapped off comments, and in the second case, Woods exploded an information bomb that startled City Manager Steve Stanton and left him mumbling.
Elected to public office for the first time in March, Woods was expected by all accounts to be a pliable ally of Gerard on the commission.
It has turned out quite differently. Woods shows more and more independent thinking with each meeting of the commission.
Last Tuesday, Woods demonstrated this by saying that Legislative Policy 5.1, which limits what commissioners should talk about on their time, would have no force and effect with him.
"I don't regard it as a policy, and I will ignore it," he said, "And I believe that as an elected official I can make whatever statements I want."
Gerard piped up at this and said, "It's not a policy. We just were discussing it."
Commissioner Gay Gentry disagreed with this, saying that she understood it to be an official policy.
Gerard went on and on as Woods failed to reclaim his time. He is a polite fellow and his views obviously rankled Madame La Mayor, but he retained his composure.
The policy came about because commissioners would ruminate on what they did on their vacation, ramble on about all the friends and relatives they had recently visited, what they did last summer, how they hoped the Gators would win, and so forth bringing listeners close to a severe case of a strained tendon in the medulla oblongata.
Woods's statements brought on a prolonged discussion that added nothing to the wisdom of the commission and finally got to an announcement that he would be at the library the following Saturday.
"I knew that was comming," Commissioner Andy Guyette muttered.
To which Woods's rejoinder was, "Well, that's what I'm doing and the people who elected me have a right to know what I'm doing."
Of more impact no doubt will be Woods's request for a tally of money paid out to Zimmet.
A small but significant example of what the city treasury is shipping to Zimmet's wallet is the sums paid to the lawyer for sitting in on meetings of the Charter Review Committee last year.
Zimmet billed the city and was paid $17,903.50 for meetings from May, 2005, to last February. The eight payments average $2,238 each. This, of course, was in addition to the $8,800 Zimmet is paid by the city on a monthly basis.
Apparently none of the 15 or so members of the Charter Review Committee have indicated they had no idea that the lawyer was getting lots of extra money for sitting at their meetings sipping water and giving an occasional piece of advice that boiled down more to common sense than high faluting legal stuff.
One said " I thought it was just part of his salary."
There is also no indication that the mayor and members of the City Commission knew of the costly payments to Zimmet.
The high point for this extravagant billing was the $3,487 milked from the Largo cash cow last November.
Why couldn't Tami Bach, the then full-time assistant city lawyer, have worked with the charter group, with Zimmet reviewing the final product? She could have been rewarded with comp time.
With Woods's views settled on what he will do with his comments and his preliminary request for legal expenses, what remains to be seen now is what else has contributed to the Zimmet enrichment program.
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