LARGO - Actions taken by City Manager Steve Stanton against an American soldier has astounded Largo, set in motion a planned protest by at least one veterans' organization and left residents of the city wondering whatever could have possessed Stanton to embark on this bizarre course.
At a time when members of the U.S. military are serving and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and, in almost every case, are receiving accolades from their fellow citizens, the action of a public official to embarrass and criticize a soldier has left this city in a tizzy.
A recent propaganda piece by the county's only daily newspaper that is allegedly full of errors in regard to how military uniforms are to be worn attempted to put Stanton in a good light.
But experts on military matters say that Sgt. First Class Christine Hughes acted perfectly proper in appearing before the Largo City Commission to express her views as a citizen.
The Big Paper, in a recent story, fumbled through an explanation that attempted to whitewash Stanton's actions which are documented in a letter he wrote to Hughes.
Hughes responded to Stanton's attack in writing as well as in person at the September 5 City Commission meeting.
The actual history of the flap goes back to the Clearwater-Largo Road Redevelopment Plan.
Hughes owns property in Largo in an area that will be affected by the redevopment. In connection with that, she has made appearances at government boards and as an active serving member of the Army has worn her uniform at times.
This prompted a letter dated August 18 from Stanton to Hughes at her home address.
Included in the letter was this statement -
"It is my hope that you will not appear before the Pinellas County Planning Commission, Board of County Commissioners, or the Largo City Commission in your military uniform without prior military approval."
Stanton also indicated in his letter that Hughes had violated Army regulations by wearing her uniform.
Tom McKeon, former head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization in Indian Rocks Beach, said, "I consider Stanton's letter a veiled threat. . . ."
Stanton, of course, has never served in the military. McKeon apparently was aware of this because he said, "(Stanton) doesn't know what he is talking about."
Hughes replied to Stanton in a letter dated August 30.
She said, ". . . you have been advised incorrectly," in reference to her wearing the uniform.
"I find your letter to be disappointing to me, and an embarrassment to you," Hughes said in her letter.
"Not only do you make your residents feel unwelcome, but as a leader and a governing authority, I expect you to do your research and only move forward with accurate information," Hughes wrote.
As to her reference to making residents feel unwelcome, she was undoubtedly referring to attempts by Mayor Pat Gerard in particular to squelch public comment and criticism.
A violator of the policy against using one's office to promote a private interest in which she has a stake, Gerard nevertheless boldly shuts down any citizen who dares criticize her.
At the commission meeting last week, Hughes appeared in person in civilian clothes and excoriated Stanton in public. "You should stay in your lane," said Hughes. "Army regulations are not your lane."
Stanton's weird notions of a serving soldier wearing the uniform of our country has left many observers in Largo bewildered as to why he would create such an off the wall controversy.
One knowledgeable source pointed to Gerard. This source said, "Our mayor is an anti-military type. She has made known on numerous occasions her anti-military stance."
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