LARGO - In the world of the all-powerful Steve Stanton, city manager of Largo, he fires somebody and that's that, life moves on.
But not apparently in the case of Pat Bennett, fired by Stanton November 9 in what has been described as a "shoot from the hip" maneuver.
Bennett appeared before the City Commission December 5 and gave a recitation of events leading up to his firing. It was an imcomplete story because Mayor Pat "Giggles" Gerard rudely cut him off.
From all signs, Stanton, the commission and Largo has not heard the last of Bennett, a mild mannered professional who got top marks in his job evaluation report just prior to his firing.
One of the sad aspects of the whole situation is that it appears that one city official abandoned integrity for the sake of keeping a job.
Bennett has submitted a public records request to the city for documentation on information that he, in light of his position, already knows about. Some of these records deal with billing by Alan Zimmet, the city's part time lawyer. This stuff could possibly open a Pandora's box of delicious information, depending on where one sits.
Stanton escaped last week whatever heat was being generated by being out of town (at a notable watering spot in Nevada), demonstrating how to spend six days at a three-day meeting. Such are the enticements of the west.
Bennett was serving as the city's risk manager and had only been on the payroll a little more than a year. An experienced hand, he ran into trouble apparently when he questioned some of the billing by the city's part time lawyer who gets paid $2,000-plus a week. This apparently put him on somebody's four-letter list.
The debacle also seems to have put another city employee on the spot. Susan Sinz, who runs the Human Relations Department, under which office Bennett served, appears to have done some broken field running, reversing course and snaking through the bureaucratic underbrush when l'affaire Bennett became red hot at city hall.
One local respected citizen, who spent years in the executive suite and asks to remain anonymous, said that the Bennett situation was handled contrary to anything he had ever known or experienced in the world of responsible executive decisions.
"It seems to me," he said, "that Stanton was way out of bounds in the way this was handled."
Bennett tells how, while waiting on November 9 to see Alan Zimmet, the city's lawyer, he had to wait and stood in the doorway of Stanton's office which was adjacent.
"He was sitting at the conference table," Bennett said. "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?" Bennett said Stanton indicated this was the case. Thus was he fired.
The retired executive says, "I'm sure firing people like that is not done in responsible cities. In business, firing people is not done on the spot. Most times someone might be suspended. They look into the ramifications of dismissal, including legal problems," he said.
Then he put his finger on what may be the key element. "Firing people on the spot went out of style years ago, except that is, where you have some despotic system. Largo ought to look at that."
The Bennett affair makes a strong argument, some feel, for an independent internal auditor that Stanton and Zimmet are fighting tooth and nail.
"If further evidence is necessary that the city needs a independent auditor, I can't imagine what it is," Curtis Holmes, a strong advocate for an internal auditor, said.
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