LARGO – This city established itself last spring as the city that does not follow the rule of law and exemplified this at the City Commission’s November 15 meeting when members sat there with a straight face and further violated or ignored its own laws.
A mockery was made earlier this year of election laws as laid out in the city Charter.
Three commissioners, who violated the Charter in respect to election contributions to candidates, got off after two investigations by the State Attorney’s Office because they professed lack of knowledge of the law.
Most eighth graders are aware of the ancient hoary injunction that “ignorance is no defense” when breaking the law.
Furthermore, many observers thought that elected officials should know the law, at least all of that law that directly pertains to their position – sort of a “strict liability” concept.
Those who appeared to have broken the law in most people’s eyes were Pat Burke, who has since left the commission, but still wields, behind the scenes in most observers’ view, an influential hand; Harriet Crozier, who is involved in a nepotism situation because her husband was hired to work for the city after she was elected, and Pat Gerard, whose latest outrage has been to try to benefit the company she works for by exercising the influence of her position as a commission member. A conflict of interest ethics complaint and investigation is pending against her.
The apparent election violations, not pursued by the prosecutor in the discretionary powers held by that office, are still red-hot in the minds of many Largo observers who recall them being brushed off by City Manager Steve Stanton and Alan Zimmet, the city’s lawyer, as “technical violations,” whatever that means.
Zimmet gets more than $2,000 a week for his part time job and consistently seems to do Stanton’s bidding (Stanton has total control of Zimmet’s position with the city and what he gets paid).
Of course, it was crucial to Stanton’s position at the time that he not lose any support on the commission. The three accused were crucial to his maintaining his position.
It now takes five votes to fire the city manager, which gives the minority of three power on the commission. This is a situation that presumably is being corrected in the charter changes that are coming up.
At the November 15 meeting, the commission, over the vigorous and persistent protests of Commissioner Mary Black, further violated the charter provisions.
These also will probably be brushed off as “technical violations” as Black was brushed off two weeks ago as an “obstructionist” and “troublemaker.”
The specifics – The commission was giving the staff “directions” relating to the March election. One such instruction was that the city clerk’s office was “to remove petition cards that do not meet Charter requirements prior to forwarding to the Supervisor of Elections for verification.”
The petition cards are needed by candidates to file and registered voters are asked to sign them, although they are burdened with language that requires they be signed before a notary, making the situation well-nigh impossible. As one citizen said, “Too complicated, I’m not signing any cards.”
Two Charter provisions bear on this instruction.
Section 2.06(b) says, in pertinent part – “. . .and neither the City Commission nor its members shall give orders to any such officer (clerk) or employee, either publicly or privately.”
The other provision is Section 7.02 (b and c) which says – “All separate papers and forms comprising the nominating petition shall be assembled and filed with the city clerk as one instrument . . .” and “Within seven business days after the filing of the nominating petition, the city clerk shall notify the candidate in writing whether or not it satisfied the requirements of this Charter. If a petition is found to be insufficient, the city clerk shall return it immediately to the candidate with a statement verifying wherein it is found insufficient.”
The commission, with Stanton’s implicit approval, gave instructions violative of what is set forth in the Charter and Zimmet signed off on it.
Black has notified her colleagues, Stanton, Zimmet and the clerk of the breaches.
The subject is not on the agenda for tonight’s special meeting, but when it does come up, expect more fireworks as Black tries with all her might and main to get the city to obey its own laws.
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