LARGO - A tempest in a teapot has been brewed in Largo, but the irony is in the bitter aftertaste where the attempt to make a former mayor look bad misfires based on the bare facts.
A city employee has lost his job, "resigned," according to the official word.
Lou Hilton, who worked as a planner in the city's community development department, suffered the penalty because his expression of ignorance of the law was not satisfactory.
The current mayor violated the same law in 2005 and, after two investigations by the State Attorney's Office, was excused.
These are the facts -
Hilton gave Mayor Bob Jackson a cash donation of $100 during this year's mayoral campaign which Jackson lost to Gerard. Under the law, Jackson could not accept the cash donation which was left in an envelope in Jackson's City Hall mailbox.
Jackson told Hilton he could not accept the donation and arrangements were made to return the $100 to Hilton in an envelope with his name on it. This was given to a city employee.
This person in turn gave it to Mike Staffopoulos, head of community development. Staffopoulos took it to City Manager Steve Stanton, who opened the envelope. Why he would open an envelope addressed to another person is not known.
But as has been accurately observed, not a sparrow falls in Largo without Stanton's knowledge. He thinks of himself as ultimately responsible for everything that happens in the city. He has said this himself.
It is not known if Hilton was present when Stanton opened the envelope that was addressed to Hilton.
It is a violation of the city Charter for city employees to give financial donations to political candidates.
The irony now is that the current mayor, Gerard, and the vice mayor, Harriet Crozier, both gave donations to candidates in the 2005 election. No action was taken against these two highest elected officials in the city.
They pleaded ignorance of the law, although the very subject was discussed at a City Commission meeting a few months prior to the election.
Hilton's assertion that he was not aware of the law did not work for him.
In any event, it is obvious that Jackson did nothing improper, although insinuations by Gerard are an obvious attempt to put the former mayor in a bad odor.
She said, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones," although, unlike her, Jackson has done nothing wrong.
She was the subject of an Ethics Commission investigation that found probable cause but amazingly decided to take no action based on the clever bad advice given by the Largo city lawyer, Alan Zimmet.
Gerard was also fined for election violations that took place this year based on a complaint from Jackson.
In this latest incident, Jackson, as far as is known, committed no violations. To the contrary, he acted perfectly appropriately with the Hilton donation.
But Stanton and Jackson are old enemies and Stanton apparently saw a chance to daub a little mud on someone and lost, by his own testimony, a valued employee.
One knowledgeable observer has pointed out that the logic of the Hilton case dictates that since Gerard and Crozier did exactly what Hilton did, to ensure continued trust in public officials the two women should resign.
"How can they be leaders of the city and expect fellow employees to follow the law when they don't?" this source said. In Largo, obviously, there is one standard for one class of employee and a different one for another class.
Or it could be, that at the highest level of the city's administration an old political maxim is being exercised - "Punish your enemies and reward your friends."
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