By Leo Coughlin
For years, he was a regular at the citizen comments microphone at Largo City Commission meetings.
His comments were very often critical, challenging, spoken in a level of excitement with eyes that flashed with passion. A lot of the time his personality seemed as bristly as his short haircut.
The whole aspect was that of a zealot, maybe a crackpot at times, bordering on the demeanor of a bomb thrower.
Some years ago a friend advised him to soften the whole approach, become more conciliatory. He did.
And then last November he ran for the City Commission and won and Curtis Holmes has been the most surprising figure on the Largo scene in years - maybe since forever.
Until that campaign last year when he sought a seat on the commission the theme for the others was to emphasize being a "team player."
To the contrary, Holmes said his approach would be completely independent. He said he would be "thinking outside the box." And by gum, that is exactly what he has done and has become the dominant figure on the commission in terms of leadership.
Holmes has now been on the commission for six months. His performance has been positive and stunning, a total surprise, obviously whether they say it or not, to his colleagues.
Right out of the box he made an impact -
November 10, 2009 meeting - Elicited through questioning of a city official that money to fund the new Community Center would be borrowed.
November 17 - Proposed that the funding method of all projects in the city be disclosed up front.
January 26 - Proposed direct City Commission - County Commission meetings to resolve voluntary annexation issues.
March 23 - Criticized the Recreation, Parks and Arts Department for rallying its supporters to influence opposition to the City Manager's budget and called it "out of bounds."
March 30 - Questioned whether city spending priorities should be on vital services (fire & rescue, police) or "entertainment" provided by Parks and Recreation.
Then, in the last couple of weeks, he asked city officials how $8,000 a week going to the Cultural Center is being used; and was instrumental in delaying the huge expense of the Highland Avenue project.
There are other issues, but these just hit the highlights, off the top of this agent's head.
All this done without rancor, without ill will, without sowing the seeds of destruction. The Holmes demeanor is pleasant, friendly, calm, reasonable, prudent.
A formerly "see no, say no, hear no" City Commission is becoming dynamic because of Holmes.
A team player? No way.
What is a team player after all? What has been demonstrated for years on the Largo City Commission is that it is one who rocks along making no waves collecting that paycheck ($252.41 a week for a commissioner; $378.61 for the mayor - the pay may not seem like a lot but it is vital income to some on the commission).
Plus there are the health insurance benefits that amount to $7,440 a year (if a member does not use the benefit, the value accumulates over the years and a lump sum payment is made for a departing member; lots of money).
Team player over the years appears to have meant keeping an incestuous relationship between the electeds and the city administration. A policy, that is, of pas devant les enfants; the children being the taxpayers whose money might be going down the drain in vast quantities.
Holmes has no fear. He is obviously beholden to no faction. His goal is not to keep his position on the commission by making sure he offends no one and is a friend to all. His performance thus far demonstrates that his one and only job is to serve the people. Safeguard public treasury. Not let old associations and friendships be a protective barrier for waste and fraud.
Imagine, if you will, someone coming to Holmes to get help for a friend to get a city job. Or to secure a franchise under city control. Or to arrange for anything special for anyone. Wouldn't happen.
And he's been johnny on the spot -
This is a message from a police officer, Chris Burke, to Holmes just last week. It speaks for itself -
"Thank you for your help last Friday in trying to keep the Largo Middle School students from being run over by the CSX freight train. As you saw, many students trespass on the CSX property and rail lines after school. If there was even a small fence installed from the southeast corner of the lot at 8th and 2nd to the drainpipe, we could curtail that behavior in a major way. I discussed this same problem with CSX police last month on Train Safety Day, but they said since it was city property, they could not install a fence. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated!"
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