LARGO - The latest shenanigans in Largo's city hall make one point clear - don't fool with the operations of the city's part time lawyer.
Patrick Bennett, the city's risk manager, found that out and also found himself out of a job.
His job ended November 9, two weeks before the date guessed at by the county's only daily newspaper which serves as a mouthpiece for the Largo city manager's office and winds up printing what it is told.
A different story emerges from the protagonist of the story.
The day before he was fired, Bennett, who was hired by the city in October, 2005, had a highly positive job performance review.
Such jack legged events are not uncommon in Largo where smoke and mirrors, duplicity and now you see it now you don't dipsy-doodles are part of the show.
All the turmoil that was going on for the past several weeks was confined "within the palace." As one official said, in light of Bennett's firing when it came to public attention, "It's always nice to open the paper and find out what our city manager is up to. Mr. Bennett seems to have quite a knowledge of the 'atmosphere' around city hall. Wonder if he will show up at (commission) meetings to share his knowledge? Wouldn't that be fun?"
Let Bennett tell how events unfolded -
Shortly after he was hired Bennett was asked to look at the city's legal bills. He says he checked them over and raised a few casual and innocuous questions.
Bad move, apparently, because this was the beginning of the end for Bennett, when one looks back and reviews the events that subsequently unfolded.
Those questions stirred up a hornet's nest called Alan Zimmett, the city's part time lawyer who is paid more than $2,000 a week and whose law firm is shoveled any legal business concerning Largo that Zimmet can provide.
Bennett's questions apparently hit a tender and sore spot because they immediately triggered a meeting with Zimmet, Bennett and Bennett's immediate superior, Susan Sinz, who is in charge of the city Human Relations Department.
Why Bennett comes under her is another mystery in the byzantine doings of Largo City Hall.
At the meeting, Bennett says Zimmett asked, "What's the matter? Aren't we on the same team?"
That was the first of several meetings concerning Zimmett and at which Zimmett always appeared grim and upset, Bennett says.
"I couldn't believe what was happening," Bennett says.
Bennett indicated early this year that he was going to resign. But he got a call from Stanton. "It was at the time Stanton had that injury from participating in a police exercise," Bennett says. Stanton persuaded him to stay on the job.
But the smouldering animosity on Zimmet's part continued, Bennett says.
Then came the proximate cause that led to Bennett's firing.
Questions of how city property was valued for insurance purposes was raised by John Atanasio, a citizen who plays a watchdog role. (Atanasio was described erroneously in a BP report as a "political activist.")
Insurance and valuations were in Bennett's bailiwick, but a discussion of the problem led Stanton to assign his brand new assistant, Jonathan Evans, to work on the numbers and their revision.
A review by Evans indicated that a lower insurance premium might be in order, but Bennett explained hall that there were more complications than just demanding lower rates.
He said he outlined the situation in an e-mail to Evans. "I copied Susan (Sinz) in on the e-mail and she said it was an excellent presentation."
Stanton replied to this e-mail, Bennett says in words that startled him. He wrote, "Patrick, the real question is why is Jonathan Evans doing the work you should have done?"
Of course this was as disingenuous as could possibly be, because it was Stanton himself who had put Evans to work doing the job Stanton was now raising a question about.
On November 9, Bennett says he was to see Zimmett in an office at city hall adjacent to Stanton's office.
"I had to wait to see Zimmet, and stood in the doorway of Stanton's office. He was sitting at the conference table. When he noticed me, he said, 'See Susan. There are consequences.' I said, 'What?' He repeated the same thing twice more," Bennett says.
Bennett says he then said, "Are you telling me I'm through?"
Stanton answered, "Yes," Bennett says.
"I then shook his hand and said, 'Steve, you would do well to surround yourself with people who tell you what they really think."
The next day, November 10, Bennett says he met with Sinz at lunch and she asked him what it would take to have him stay. He said he told her that he either wanted his job back or a $20,000 severance package.
But on the following Monday, November 13, he said Sinz called him and said that while one week's pay for each year of employment was standard, the city was offering him $5,000.
His response, Bennett says, was that he rejected the $5,000 and "reminded her, as I had said on Friday, that the twenty thousand dollars was non-negotiatable."
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