LARGO – The Largo City Commission voted Tuesday night to provide space for a youth art program that was brought before the City Commission and steered by Commissioner Pat Gerard, an employee of Family Resources which sponsors the program.
In probably the most blatant and obvious conflict of interest in Largo history, Gerard fully participated in the discussion and voting of the project that would benefit her employer.
In fact, during the commission meeting, it sounded like Gerard was at a meeting of her employer as she explored ideas for the arts program. At one point, she spoke for her employer, explaining how the lease should be written.
She was proceeding boldly on the green light of Alan Zimmet, the city’s part time lawyer who is paid more than $2,000 a week. He asserts that there is no conflict of interest.
Zimmet expanded on his opinion protecting Gerard, citing a case that came before the Ethics Commission that he claimed was on all fours with the Gerard controversy.
It involved a St. Petersburg case where an elected official who was also a member of the board of trustees of a non-profit company was promoting the non-profit entity’s interest in his city.
Of course, it is not even remotely in the ball park with the Gerard case. A member of the board of trustees of a non-profit company has absolutely no financial interest. Gerard, on the other hand, is a paid employee of Family Resources and ineluctably benefits by any additional expansion she can accomplish for the company.
One aspect of the situation is that Gerard’s role as an elected official gives her employer the “inside track” with the city of Largo in securing 5,000 square feet or more of space at no cost and would, in fact, cost the city the price of utilities and other items.
What charitable enterprise would not eagerly apply for that kind of deal if they knew about it? No other companies were given an opportunity. Because of the huge advantage given to Gerard’s employer by her role as its advocate while sitting as an elected official one observer called it “not only a conflict of interest, but a terrible abuse of power.”
While the ethics law seems to say that the person who is target of the complaint cannot comment on the complaint unless filing a waiver in writing, there was Gerard on Friday, explaining and justifying her conduct to a reporter from the local daily newspaper.
Not surprising, in that Gerard flouted the law in last March’s election which resulted in two criminal probes. The second investigation was necessary because it became an exercise in “memory refreshment.”
The ethics complaint against Gerard was filed by a citizen, Curtis Holmes, and alleged that Gerard had a conflict of interest contrary to Florida Statutes.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Gerard’s conduct was strongly criticized by Holmes and John Atanasio during citizens comments.
On the youth program, Holmes pointed out that it was a proposal to use city resources – taxpayer money - to support a private interest. He said that with Gerard’s operations on this, she was growing the business of her employer by 40 percent.
Also commenting at that portion of the meeting was Bruce McManus who stressed the value of the Cultural Center to the city. That value is coming at the price of a weekly drain of $10,600 a week to Largo taxpayers.
Jackson joined in that opinion, observing that the center was not designed to make money. Common knowledge, though, is that it was never intended to lose a whopping $10,600 a week. What is amazing is that the entire commission is perfectly happy with this loss (with Jackson on one side one week, and on the other side the next week).
Contrary to what was reported in the Clearwater Gazette & Beach Views October 27, Stanton has denied that he has any plans to demolish the Feedstore, a quasi-historical building now located in the southwest corner of Central Park.
The city manager met with Elmer Williams, president of the Largo Historical Society, along with Bob Delack and Doug Van Atter, and he said he was willing to look at plans for having the historical group use the Feedstore as a museum or history center.
Stanton does have an expressed interest in Historical Society goals and says “Largo has not taken proper recognition of its past. We not only need to better utilize the Feedstore, but acquire other buildings of similar importance.”
Rodney Woods, a losing candidate in the March election and who speaks often but never makes much sense, announced he will be a candidate again in 2006 for the seat being vacated by Gerard. She is running for mayor and is due to be whomped by Jackson in March.
Two new police recruits were sworn in by Chief Lester Aradi. They are Bruce Hernandez and Michael Gonzalez.
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