LARGO -- The ongoing struggle between the mayor and city manager was underlined at Largo's Charter Review Committee meeting August 3.
The almost three hour meeting revealed the frustation Mayor Bob Jackson feels in a situation where he cannot discuss issues with his colleagues on the commission but the manager, Steve Stanton, can, behind the scenes, meet freely with commissioners and orchestrate commission action.
An interesting aspect is to look at the Largo situation as it is.
The interminable discussions adduced this -- where a city manager has total adminstrative control (every job, every function) and, in addition, controls the legislative body he is, by definition, a dictator.
The discussion also revealed a distinct lack of knowledge on how government operates on the part of committee members.
It became apparent that some of the committee members, particularly a few who have not spoken much thus far in the group's weekly meetings, want more balance in the city government.
Somehow there was a hangup on the state's Sunshine Law, but that is not the nub of the problem.
A week earlier, on July 27, the committee blew an opportunity to make significant changes in the charter, changes that would have restored balance to the city government.
Instead, the prevailing sentiment was to keep the city attorney under the jurisdiction of the city manager (a disaster, and responsible for much of the trouble that besets the city, particularly the election fiasco this year).
Even worse was removing the city clerk from any mention in the charter. As the city's custodian of records and the city's election officer, the clerk fills a key position. The clerk's election responsibility was corrupted in the last election in a situation where Stanton and the city attorney, Alan Zimmet, teamed up to keep a mystery situation top secret.
In most municipalities the clerk is a charter officer, which most experts deem proper.
Those in the know realize that Stanton keeps his power by making sure he has three commissioners tight to him, thus preventing dismissal by a super majority where five votes of the seven-member commission would be necessary.
Stanton said that individual commissioners who meet with him do not want the subject of their discussions divulged. It is known that at least three commissioners do not meet with him in that fashion. Three do. Jackson's meetings with Stanton are of a different nature.
Jackson intimated (and most likely, very accurately) that the manager lines up commissioners on issues facing the City Commission and when the commission meets as a whole some of the members do not know what has been discussed and, in some cases, already decided with secret meetings.
The answer is, as has often been advocated by some, to require that the subject matter of such manager-commission meetings be memoed to all members of the commission. This would truly be open government. As long as the secret meetings continue, Stanton preserves his power to the adverse benefit of the commission itself and, by extension, to the citizens of Largo.
Stanton himself pointed out at the meeting that the people think the mayor runs the city and virtually have no knowledge of what he, the manager, does. In effect, Jackson has been emasculated.
Jackson pointed out that the secretary who works on behalf of the mayor and commission is under the jurisdiction of the manager.
Stanton defended the idea of having the city attorney under his exclusive jurisdiction, but Jackson pointed out the flaws in this including saying, "Alan knows his job is contingent on keeping Steve Stanton happy."
There were some interesting sidelights at the meeting. In one, Commissioner Pat Gerard said she opposed term limits, pointing out the pitfalls in the term-limited state legislature.
"I voted for term limits, but now I am kicking my butt," she said, obviously unaware that the "Eight is Enough" campaign in the county some years ago has nothing to do with legislature term limits. Representatives and senators are term limited under provisions of the state constitution.
Ned Ford, a longtime city figure, has left the committee. His appointment in the first place was questionable given his health and inevitably he left for that reason. He was replaced by an alternate, Harold Hunter.
Another alternate has reported that he gets calls from at least four committee members who call to discuss viewpoints, considerations and approaches to take.
In another sidelight concerning one committee member, an observer noted, "Don't you think it looks funny to have the wife of an assistant city manager tossing softball questions to his boss, Steve Stanton?" Shirley Craig is a committee member, not unusual in a city that is riddled with cronyism and, here and there, some nepotism.
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