LARGO - A key item, put on the Largo City Commission's agenda for Tuesday's work session at the last minute, was taken off at the 11th hour as commissioners advised against discussion at this time.
The item concerned the idea of having an internal auditor, hired by the City Commission, reporting solely to the commission, and independent of the city manager.
This latest development in a city still rumbling over the disclosure that the city's lawyer, Alan Zimmet, got paid $18,000 for his work last year with the Charter Review Commission, and sucking in its breath with news that the city manager, Steve Stanton, who describes himself as "underpaid," wants a whopping 16 percent raise.
According to members of the commission at the time arrangements were made for the CRC, this extra money for Zimmet was never discussed with the commission. Members of the CRC itself had no idea that Zimmet was raking in big bucks while working with them.
Stanton continues to insist that the commission discussed the matter of Zimmet being paid above and beyond his more than $2,000-plus a week retainer, but has refused to pinpoint a date when this discussion took place.
A review, meanwhile, of the meeting at which arrangements were made for the CRC, shows that no discussion of the Zimmet payment matter was held.
Commission members in 2005 say that no discussion was ever held on the matter so dates don't mean much. Never is never and self defining.
When it was divulged a few weeks ago that Zimmet was paid the $18,000, that news came as a surprise to most members of the present City Commission.
But the latest development in the byzantine political intrigues in Largo began last week when the item to discuss an internal auditor was placed on the agenda for Tuesday night and commissioners were issued a 36-page document arguing against the idea.
The idea of an internal auditor - who would review all city operations to ensure that they were in accord with commission policies - originated in Largo with a citizen, Curtis Holmes, who presented the idea at a commission meeting in late May.
His proposal was quickly brushed off by Stanton and Zimmet. The last thing Stanton wants, obviously, is an independent figure looking over his shoulder. Stanton exercises complete and absolute power over all city operations.
Holmes reiterated the idea at a meeting in early June and while that began to pique the interest of commissioners, Stanton and Zimmet brusquely shoved aside any such idea.
Holmes followed this up with a concise and pointed documentation and explanation of just what an internal auditor does which he sent to the mayor and commissioners.
Insiders in Largo figure Stanton rushed the issue onto the commission agenda to get it shot down and with such a coup de grace hoped to put the subject to rest once and for all.
But Commissioner Rodney Woods sent an e-mail Sunday to Stanton and his fellow commissioners asking that the item be removed from this week's agenda and moved to a later date.
"This is a detailed and important subject matter. What is the rush?" Woods asked. He said he got the information on the item August 4 - last Friday.
Commissioner Gigi Arntzen also sent a message to city hall Sunday asking that the item be postponed, suggesting that October would be more timely so that she could review the mass of material the city has submitted as well as studying the information Holmes has supplied.
"While staff may have reached a conclusion on the need for an internal auditor, I think the commission should be given adequate time to research the issue," Arntzen said, in an indication that she would like power returned to elected officials.
Commissioners Mary Black and Gay Gentry also reportedly were in favor of putting off discussion on an internal auditor to a later date.
The item was removed from the agenda Tuesday, just hours before the commission meeting.
Observers see these developments as a blow to Stanton's machinations and one confidential source indicated there were four votes (all that are needed) in favor of an internal auditor under the sole control of the commission.
Stanton's reaction to the idea of an auditor has been along the lines of "I'm the boss and I won't have anyone checking on me," an autocratic position that went out of American politics some years ago.
On his pay increase, Stanton is seeking a 16 percent raise that would put him within a few dollars of $150,000 for base pay (plus very generous allowances).
He wants, in a city of no more than 75,000 people, a salary equal to what Pam Iorio, the mayor of Tampa with 350,000 population, was just raised to.
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