Largo Commission Ducks Responsibility in Flap Between Manager, Chief
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The missing ingredient in the flap over the disciplining of a police officer is the City Commission.
Those elected officials ran for cover when the story first broke of the city manager, Mac Craig, suspending the police chief, Lester Aradi, for some imagined offense.
And members of the commission haven't been seen or heard from since. For one thing, they have been on a prolonged hiatus from their public duties - no commission meeting in Largo now for two straight weeks.
In fact, Largo city workers who are employed in City Hall are having a three-day week. Friday is the Fourth of July holiday and on Monday the place was closed because the air conditioning wasn't working drawing startled looks from those of a certain age who remember when air conditioning was very scarce in Florida.
"Hey, this is their job and they are shirking it," one leading citizen who is in a sensitive city position said. "The commission needs to take immediate action - ensure that the suspension order is removed from Aradi's record and give him back three days pay."
Meanwhile, howls of outrage over Craig's conduct came from all quarters of the city - from citizenry, business leaders, and within the police force.
Craig suspended Aradi - the only blot on the chief's 35-year career - for three days for what he called "bad judgment" on Aradi's part. Most observers do not agree.
One thing is eminently clear, observers agree - there is no ambiguity in the city's Code of Conduct. It clearly says that they are guidelines and so there was no justification for Craig's action.
"Why does Craig want to undermine the chief?" one businessman was overheard asking. His friend rejoined with, "Craig can't undermine Aradi. The chief is too respected in the department. If Craig undermined anyone, he undermined himself."
There has been no personal observation, but the word coming from inside the building at police headquarters on Highland Avenue is that the men and women in blue are as mad as hornets.
Craig's actions once again raised the question among many observers as to why he is in the city manager job in the first place.
By standards of the city managers own professional group he is not qualified and has no experience in such a job. He was appointed when the former city manager was fired because he wanted to turn himself into a woman and the general consensus was that such a radical upheaval in the city leadership wouldn't work.
So Steve Stanton left and the commission, rejecting the plea of Mayor Pat Gerard to launch a search for a qualified and experienced city manager, was persuaded by one of its members, a close friend of Craig (a newcomer to the city himself), to pick Craig who was, at the time, older than what is generally accepted as the age of mandatory retirement everywhere but in Largo.
Many bemoan the loss of Stanton who was very competent and professional and a loss that has left the city leaderless now for more than two years.
Because he was out of town when Aradi took the disciplinary action on the officer, Craig, it is said, got angry.
Those who have known Aradi as long as he has been in Largo will testify that underhandedness, sneakiness, taking advantage are as far from his ethical standards as the moon is distant from the earth.
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