LARGO – Out of towners – people who don’t live in Largo – could decide the future of the old library building.
To the dismay of some members of the Largo City Commission, several non-residents of Largo are participating in discussions pertinent to the future of the old library.
One of those commission members was emphatic enough to say, “There should not be people who do not live in Largo deciding what happens to property that belongs to the taxpayers of Largo.”
The scheme is to make an arts center of the former library which now is about 36,000 square feet of empty space.
An attempt has already been made to turn space in the library over to Family Resources, Inc., the company for whom Commissioner Patricia Gerard works for.
This blatant conflict of interest is the subject of an official complaint to the state Commission on Ethics.
Gerard, at the time the matter was discussed, sought protection behind the opinion of the city’s $2,000 a week part time lawyer, Alan Zimmet, who cited a previous ethics case that he said would allow Gerard to discuss and vote on a matter in which she has a direct benefit.
One official source familiar with the Gerard ethics case has called her action “one of the most obvious breaches” ever seen and said that the case cited by Zimmet was “not relevant, a totally different situation.”
The “Guide to the Sunshine Amendment and Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees” issued by the Ethics Commission clearly states that “No county, municipal, or other local public officer shall vote in an official capacity upon any measure which would inure to his or her special private gain or loss, or which the officer knows would inure to the special private gain or loss of an principal by whom he or she is retained . . .”
The law is crystal clear, but like so much other law pertaining to their elected positions, many Largo officials ignore the law (including the city’s Charter) which has given the Largo the reputation as “the city that does not operate by the rule of law.”
The group discussing the possible future use of the old library was not named by the City Commission. It is not known exactly who named the members, but it is believed that Gerard is behind the move to put arts programs in the old library.
And insiders see the hand of Gerard in the selection of the eight outsiders on the 12-member committee (67 percent non-Largo residents).
Gerard is a candidate for mayor, challenging the veteran Bob Jackson, against whom she is given little chance by experts.
One Largo city official said that except for those who are known to live in Largo, he did not know where other committee members lived.
Members of the committee are Pat Fosnaugh, of the Gulf Coast Museum of Art who lives in Palm Harbor; Kathy Feaster of Largo; Jay Goulde of Outdoor Arts Foundation who lives in St. Petersburg; Margo Walbolt, Cultural Coordinator of the City of Clearwater who lives in Clearwater; George Ann Bissett and Susan Gehring, of the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, both of Dunedin; Jeanne Reynolds, Pinellas County School Board music/theater supervisor, address unknown; Peter Kageyama, of Creative Tampa Bay, address unknown; Julie Scales, Pinellas County Community Foundation, who lives in Palm Harbor; Ken Hall of Largo; Clyde Shriner of Largo, and Bruce McManus of Largo.
Largo city hall officials very carefully avoided listing the residences of those members of the committee who do not live in Largo.
It was this withholding of key information that triggered astonishment from commission members who were flabbergasted that non-Largo residents would be helping to decide the future of city property.
Gerard has shown herself to be bound and determined to get a certain type of activity into the old library building.
A great opportunity was missed when St. Petersburg College expressed interest in using the space for a special school but that wound up with the SPC’s president, Carl Kutler, being disrespected.
Kutler gave a presentation to the commission several months ago, but Gerard and friends had rounded up a claque of supporters who rallied and blathered on at the commission meeting about the importance of arts.
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