LARGO -- Shenanigans and hijinks at election time are nothing new in Largo, as citizens today stand in wonderment at illegal campaign contributions and other peccadilloes in the current campaign.
Warren Andrews, who was Largo's mayor from 1973 to 1979, recalls an odd happening he got involved in during the 2002 election.
Andrews was the campaign manager for Mary Lawrence, who was seeking re-election to the commission. She was not favored in this regard by Steve Stanton, the city manager, who is political, despite protestations to the contrary.
Andrews recalls now how a campaign report was one day late in being filed with the mailed-in material postmarked a day later than he anticipated it would be.
Such a late filing, to his understanding, he says, called for a $50 fine. But then, he said, he got a phone call from Diane Bruner, the city clerk, who said the fine was $500.
Andrews says he was astonished.
Bruner is still city clerk and is normally the one who, by law, conducts the election process. However, this year she was removed and replaced by Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager, for reasons that are still unknown to the public.
Andrews says he pressed Bruner three years ago on why the fine suddenly went from $50 to $500.
Bruner, he says, said that someone had come to her and pointed it out. She said that she referred the question to Alan Zimmet, the part time city attorney who is currently paid $103,000, and he decreed that the $500 fine was appropriate because it was a "general election."
Andrews said he researched the subject, including referring to the Florida state constitution, and claims to this day that the 2002 election did not fit the definition that Zimmet was applying.
"I have no respect whatsovever for Zimmet," the former mayor says.
When he pressed Bruner as to who came to her about a fine for the late filing, Bruner admitted it was Gigi Arntzen, who has been involved in Largo politics for years and this year is a candidate for a commission seat. In 2002 she was a campaign manager for a candidate, a role that she often has taken on over the years.
Arntzen is the person who referred to citizens who did not agree with City Commission acts in February 2003 as a virus and a virus "that must be eliminated."
One observer pointed out that such strong language had not been heard since 1935 in the Nuremberg Laws in Germany.
"It will be a bad day for Largo if Gigi is elected," Andrews said Tuesday.
One strong criticism Andrews has with procedures currently going on with the city manager and commission is that Stanton meets with individual commissioners. "This could be a violation of the Sunshine Law if information from one commissioner is imparted to another commissioner through the manager," Andrews pointed out.
The manager-commission member meetings have been criticized for months. One method to ameliorate any suspicion of wrongdoing or underhandedness would be to have the mayor and all members of the commission memoed with the date, place and subjects talked about between the manager and any member of the commission.
Another strong criticism Andrews has, and it echoes what is a growing cry in Largo, is that Stanton has too much power while the mayor and commission virtually have no power.
"Zimmet should be under the jurisdiction of the commission," Andrews says, "and the city clerk also should be."
In the current illegal campaign contributions made by certain commissioners, Zimmet ruled that the violation of the law was "not wilful."
"That is an aspect of the violation that should be left to a finder of fact, like a judge or jury, not the city attorney," one observer noted.
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