LARGO -- Comparisons are invariably invidious, subject to the apples-oranges test or other subjective considerations.
But the struggle between Mayor Bob Jackson, who claims he is not given the status due his position, and City Manager Steve Stanton is a growing cause celebre in the community.
A comparison was drawn at the Charter Review Committee's meeting August 10.
A member of the committee, J.B. Butler, a ubiquitous and talkative figure in the city, drew a comparison between Jackson and his predecessor Tom Feaster, who died unexpectedly and too young about 2000.
Butler pointed out that Feaster had more control over the commission and more governance over Stanton.
That brought a rapid rejoinder from Jackson, who was in the audience with his wife, Lu, along with Commissioner Mary Black, Jim Hannon, a committee alternate, and John Atanasio (a sparse collection indicative of the lack of interest on the part of the citizenry).
Jackson correctly pointed out that historically former commissions had operated without the Sunshine Law and enabled members to talk among each other.
Also, insiders know that Feaster, who had a strong, dominating personality, created a consensus among commission members and held the reins of power over Stanton because he always had enough votes to fire the manager.
Nowadays Stanton has built relationships with commissioners and has secured his job in that area by having plenty of commission vote protection.
Also, Stanton has grown in his job, enhanced his reputation in the universe of city managers (the most recent escutceon being his four-week sojourn at the prestigious Harvard School of Government), and probably has no worries about future employment.
Stanton has negotiated a very favorable contract for himself, does an almost flawless job as far as complex city operations are concerned, exercises a benevolent discipline over city employees and, in general, runs a taut ship.
Jackson's plaints are that Stanton does not follow or respond sufficiently to his concerns, that the city manager presents items to the City Commission as fait accomplis, and is too independent of the commission.
There are ways that the Charter Review Committee could restore some much-needed balance in the governance of the city but the mechanics of doing so have apparently totally escaped the members who do a lot of huffing and puffing but precious little hauling and pulling.
Instead, charter committee meetings are resplendent with very correct politeness and a lot of bafflegab. It is a real live Gallagher and Sheean show.
For example, the committee could have decreed that the city attorney and city clerk be placed under the jurisdicition of and report to the City Commission. They also could have included a provision in the charter that when the manager meets privately with individual commissioners the subject of such a meeting be memoed to the mayor and all commission members.
Stanton manipulates his power through these meetings and constantly works to create the idea that the mayor is powerless and just another commission member.
He admitted as much in his own testimony before the charter review folks on August 3.
"People think the mayor runs the city, but he doesn't," he said. "I run the city and the general public does not even know who I am."
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