Largo Personnel Code Shows Aradi Acted Appropriately
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - In suspending one of his officers for a breach of the city's Code of Conduct, Largo Police Chief Lester Aradi acted perfectly appropriately, according to the code itself.
Yet the chief was assessed a three-day suspension by Mac Craig, the city manager. Craig gave as a reason for his action that Aradi used poor judgment.
An examination of the facts appears to show that quite the opposite is true.
While Aradi was serving his suspension on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, messages of support for the chief and his action were flooding into City Hall and the Police Department.
At the same time, questions were being raised in some quarters about Craig's performance as city manager.
The flap began with the revelation that a police officer, Anthony Citrano, one of the department's top officers, had downgraded or fixed a motor vehicle violation ticket.
The city's Code of Conduct lists about 50 infractions that call for disciplinary action.
However, the code says this very explicitly -
"The Code of Conduct rules . . . are designed to ensure the rights and safety of city employees and to provide working guidelines to encourage equitable and businesslike conduct."
Aradi obviously was faced with a breach of the rules that he had to deal with.
He applied discipline, he said, in accord with the situation, the individual involved and the guidelines.
The code says -
"Although internal consistency in administering discipline is desirable, numerous factors should be considered in determining the appropriate level of discipline to be assessed . . . Some of the factors involved include, but are not limited to . . . willingness to improve, overall work performance, job attitude . . ."
Typical of Aradi's way of working in a careful, prudent manner, he checked with the State Attorney's Office to discover that Citrano had broken no law.
On the city's list of infractions, it appears that Citrano broke number 25 which relates to "falsifying an official record" (although he did not actually do that) and number 38 which relates to using "one's city position to obtain . . . a special favor."
When Aradi took over a police department eight years ago that had been riddled with scandal and problems, he told his personnel, "I have one golden rule. If you make a mistake admit it, don't lie, don't cover up, show me you have learned from it and you will not do it again, and I will back you."
Good police officers are hard to come by. With Citrano he had an outstanding officer.
"He came to me devastated, in tears," Aradi said. He admitted he had made a colossal mistake, to do a friend (in the department) a favor. He was contrite. He has lost his chance in the immediate future of being promoted to sergeant."
Given that, and measured against his own policies and the city's Code of Conduct, Aradi says he exercised the discretion that the Code clearly allows and suspended Citrano for 10 days.
Craig wanted the officer fired, but his wishes went by the boards because the punishment had already been decreed and a violator cannot be punished twice for the same offense.
Aradi has proven his excellent judgment over the years since taking over a police department that was dysfunctional.
"I know in my heart I did the right thing in this case," Aradi said. "I learned from a chief I once worked for that there is such a thing as doing things right and doing the right thing. I think I did both in this case."
At the same time, Aradi said he had the highest respect for Craig and does not want his relationship with the city manager damaged.
Craig, who had been on the city staff, was appointed to take over when Steve Stanton left the city more than two years ago. Craig had no previous experience as a city manager and was appointed largely on the basis of friendship and cronyism, in the view of many.
Mayor Pat Gerard at the time, to her credit, favored going outside the city to find a qualified and experienced city manager, neither of which applied to Craig.
Even so, the city had at hand Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager and long-time city employee who had all the qualifications lacked by Craig.
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