Gerard Asserts Control by Commission, Sharply Criticizes Craig, Staff
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Mayor Pat Gerard, in some very compelling and pointed words, recaptured power for the City Commission and sharply reined up the Largo administration and staff, excoriating City Manager Mac Craig.
Her comments came in connection with the reported closing of Bonner Park and other expenditure curtailments in the budget for fiscal year 2010 engineered by Craig and the staff without commission discussion.
Gerard made clear that the hired hands had overstepped their bounds and had taken actions that had no commission involvement.
"The process is backwards. Passing the budget is up to us," she said, keeping her very agitated demeanor under control.
"We've seen this more than ever before, the staff making final decisions. You decided jobs to be eliminated before we had a chance to talk about it. That's not the way it is supposed to work."
One thing that obviously irked the mayor was that a sign had been placed at the entrance of Bonner Park indicating that the park would be closed in the fall.
At one point, on the issue of the supposed closing of Bonner Park, which brought out many protesting citizens to the meeting, Gerard turned toward Craig, who sits next to her on the dais, and said, "You really made us look like idiots. I don't appreciate it."
Then she said, "I'd like to know who hung the signs saying the park would close before we (the commission) ever had a chance to talk about it. That's a real question."
The hapless Craig chimed in with "We'll find out," indicating, if any further proof were needed, that he heads up a staff that is clearly out of control.
At one point, Commissioner Rodney Woods, no doubt attempting to be judicial, opined, "We don't know who did it."
Gerard, laughing, waved her hand dismissively toward Woods and said, "Of course we know who did it."
"Well, I guess I'm out of the loop then," Woods rejoined. Truer words were never spoken.
Comments by a citizen, Curtis Holmes, who will also be a candidate for election in November, challenging Woods, might have been a trigger for Gerard's comments later in the meeting.
Holmes pointed out that hanging the "to be closed" signs was a ploy to ignite public protest, a device that has been used before by Joan Byrne, head of Parks and Recreation (a department that includes social services that citizen Geoff Moakley protested against in his comments).
Gerard recognized that the staff was trying to be helpful in anticipating moves to be made in budget cuts, but made it very clear that she would no longer tolerate the usurping of the City Commission's function by Craig and his staff.
Many observers in the city welcomed Gerard's asserting the prerogatives of the City Commission which for too long, in the estimation of many, has been subordinated by the city staff, meekly giving acquiescence to many issues.
"Pat's words have jolted the city manager and staff back to reality. I am so glad that she put them in their place," one observer, a former commission member, said.
"It seems like the commission doesn't know how government works. They don't understand that they have the responsibility and they must keep the staff under control."
There has been a deterioration in the administration function since Steve Stanton left as city manager in the spring of 2007.
Stanton was a thorough professional city manager with many years of experience.
Unfortunately, through friendship and cronyism, the commission appointed the elderly and inexperienced Craig to succeed Stanton, a grave mistake in the eyes of many. That came about through the urgings of Commissioner Harriet Crozier a close friend of Craig.
Action on the West Bay Redevelopment issue, once hot and controversial, passed without virtually any opposition. What had been strong objections within the plan were overcome.
Working in the background with key city officials, modifications were made that overcame what had been presented as big problems. A petition drive by some residents living in the area became moot.
Meanwhile, the political pot is a-boiling, with a candidate emerging to oppose Commissioner Gigi Arntzen. Woods already has an opponent in Holmes and Bob Jackson is expected to challenge Gerard in an attempt to get his seat back.
Arntzen's opponent is a woman named Heleen Abramson and some brief research shows that she has a public record, advertising herself as a counselor on a web site called Live Person where she describes herself as an "expert in coaching and personal development."
Abramson showed up at Tuesday night's commission meeting, her first visit ever to a commission meeting. She asked one person in the audience if "Gigi Arntzen was there?" Of course, Arntzen was on the dais with her colleagues.
On Facebook, another Internet listing source, she cites Barack and Michelle Obama, Joe Biden and Ron Paul as among her favorite politicians and NPR as one of her favorite non-profits.
She lost in the 2008 election to Rosemary Virgil as committeewoman for the Democratic Party in Precinct 316, 62-40 votes.
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