By Leo Coughlin
"You really made us look like idiots."
Those words exemplify the ghastly mistake the Largo City Commission made in 2007 by hiring Mac Craig, inexperienced and unqualified, as city manager.
That grievous error became manifestly clear at last week's commission meeting.
The words came from Mayor Pat Gerard and were directed at Craig.
Take the statement as you will - the word "you" singular or plural, it comes to the same thing.
As city manager, Craig is putatively responsible for what goes on in the city, for all the deeds of the staff.
Let's examine Gerard's statement, made coolly and with the mayor keeping herself under tight control, although she was seething with anger.
And no wonder. Craig and his staff have usurped the rights, privileges and prerogatives of the elected officials. The situation in Largo has been a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. And Craig is responsible for that.
Last week, Gerard, who obviously is a woman who hates confrontations and shies away from such, but has a backbone of steel, decided to grab back to the City Commission's rightful possession what had been taken by Craig and company.
The drift of power leaching away from the commission and going toward Craig and staff has been apparent for months. It has been written about and although those writings have seemingly been ignored it seems, with Gerard's action last week, they were having an effect.
In a move to see that one penny was not cut from the Parks and Recreation Department budget, Joan Byrne, director of that department, roused up the citizenry over talk of closing a popular park.
She has done that before, witness the outpouring of citizens a few years ago when word traveled through the community that there would be cuts in some after school child care programs.
Bob Jackson, mayor at the time, got snookered on that one, because there were no such cuts at all, but again, when La Byrne feels any threat to her empire, she has the populace screaming and yelling in protest.
So it was this year with Bonner Park.
First there was a sign that said "Due To Budget Cuts This Park Will Be Closing In October."
Wasn't true at all.
Then, more recently, this was posted - "This Park Is Under Consideration To Be Closed. To Voice Your Concerns Call 586-7415 Or Log Onto (the city web site)."
Again, not true.
The City Commission had never discussed any such thing and that is what "under consideration" means. So the information posted was totally misleading.
But it served its purposes, which was to get folks to City Hall protesting. Parks and Rec, you see, is its own lobbying firm.
"Since Stanton left, the smartest politician in town is Joan Byrne," one old hand who has seen them come and go in Largo for years said.
Parks and Rec appears to be some sort of Berwick upon Tweed, as it were, a fief within the Largo administration but independent of the city manager. All facts seem to indicate this.
But Craig has to take responsibility. He is the executive authority and the link (very weak though it may be) between the electeds and the hired hands. If he is not in control, the city is perforce in chaos. And he obviously is not in control.
That can be clearly seen with words spoken at last week's commission meeting.
Gerard very pointedly and seriously wanted to know who posted the "closing" signs on Bonner Park. She repeated the request, saying she was very serious about wanting to know.
Craig very weakly said, "We'll find out."
We'll find out?
Why wouldn't he know in the first place? Why? Because he doesn't know what is going on in his own command.
Who did it?
In an unintended comical touch, Commissioner Rodney Woods said, in his mealy-mouthed way (always playing to the public), that it needed to be looked into.
Gerard laughed contemptuously and with a wave of her hand toward Woods said, "Oh, we know who did it."
Darn tooting we do.
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