Holmes Stunned by Craig Denial of Conversations
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Several days after the event, Commissioner Curtis Holmes was still stunned by the denial last week by Norton Holmes, the city manager, of conversations Holmes said he had with Craig.
"I am dumbfounded why he would tell me, over and over, that he had this 'iron clad' agreement that would withstand any court challenge regarding annexing the airport, and then absolutely deny it in public," Holmes said in an interview last Friday.
"He either lied to me or he lied to the public," he added, in a disappointed voice.
"Frankly, I was totally shocked at the meeting (Tuesday) when he denied having told me that," Holmes said. "It took a supreme effort on my part not to explode."
The matter came up at last week's City Commission meeting when Holmes asked Craig directly about the matter. There had been some confusion in his mind, Holmes said, because when he raised the subject at the September 21 meeting, at which Craig was absent, Assistant City Managers Henry Schubert and Mike Staffopoulos said they knew nothing about it.
In answering Holmes, Craig, in a shaky voice, nervously denied having any such conversations with Holmes. Craig went on to say that there must have been a misunderstanding. Holmes said that he had a very clear recollection of the conversations.
"I was so angry at that," Holmes said, "but I bit my tongue and shut up."
He continued, "But think about it - if the conversations on that subject never took place that would have to mean I was making it up. First of all, what possible reason would I have to do that, and more obviously, how could I make up something about which I had no knowledge?"
Holmes wonders now, "I really don't get it. Why did he tell me this stuff about the airport in the first place? He mentioned three times on two different occasions that he had an agreement that would stand up in any court when Largo decides to annex the airport. Actually, I thought annexing the airport a very bad idea. He wanted it because, he said, 'thirty years from now it'll be the largest piece of industrial land in the county.'"
Holmes said the whole subject came up as an outgrowth of his unofficial appearance before the County Commission early this year when he urged that Largo and the county get together and speedily do the annexations where there were already voluntary agreements.
Holmes said the contiguous rule (where land must be adjoining for annexation) could have been waived, but Craig asked him not to proceed because, Holmes said, Craig asserted at that point that "the county will insist that we not annex the airport."
"And at that point," Holmes said, "Craig mentioned the 'iron clad' agreement."
Holmes said that he doesn't favor any annexation of the airport even if it became a front burner issue. "I think it's an environmental disaster that would cost us more than it's worth. Stop and consider - how much aviation fluid is just under the surface after seventy-plus years of aircraft coming and going. Not long ago, MacDill (Air Force base in Tampa) had an EPA order to clean up their mess and I believe it cost something like fifty million dollars."
Holmes said he is vitally concerned that the city manager would deny conversations with an elected official and in doing so was calling the elected official a liar by implication.
"I don't see how a government can effectively function with that kind of business going on," Holmes said.
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