By Leo Coughlin
McGough Park should not be closed.
That's the main contentious issue in Largo right now in which citizens raise their voices loudly and clearly.
There is so much waste in other areas - right in the Recreation, Park and Arts Department - that sufficient funds can be found to keep McGough open and operating.
Now that this exercise has taken care of that subject, we will get down to the real business of the day. And it is somewhat troubling, in the view from here.
High-ranking Largo city department heads who manage budgets involving millions of dollars (yes, literally millions) are under the strictures of information control that call up the grim memories of Hitler and Goebbels.
Queried on the nature of this behavior, one psychologist said, "Except in matters of military operations or national security, strict control over news in city governments is a manifestation of fear on someone's part." Uh, huh.
It works this way in Largo -
A query is sent to a department head who prepares an answer. That answer is then sent to the secretary of the city manager. The city manager is informed and presumably he then convenes a meeting of his special review board to make sure that no "inside" or "secret" city information is being betrayed or leaked.
After this top-level examination by the CM's Review Council, the answer is sent back to the CM's secretary who then sends it to the secretary for the mayor and commission members.
This person in turn types in the name of the mayor and each commission member and all those on the distribution list and the answer is dispatched to the original questioner. You see? Plenty of work for all.
This is what passes for efficiency in the Largo City Hall these days and is why taxes are so low and taxpayers are so happy with their streamlined government. Not.
Now for some delicious irony. The desire to control all flow of news and information is upended by the simple fact that time and time again things have come up in public at commission meetings and the city manager, one Norton Craig, according to his own words, knows nothing about it.
Recent glaring examples have been the program using a city bus to transport citizens to gambling casinos, dog tracks and restaurants hither and yon (none in Largo, by the way). Another was a publication put out by the city itself.
When these gems of information were revealed recently at City Commission meetings, the response from the city manager's chair was "Huh? What? Never heard of that."
Thus there is the anomaly of Craig having all information pass through his filter but when push comes to shove and various things come up it's something he never heard of. Something wrong with that picture, indeed.
But think of the supposedly high level officials in the city, who should be able to color within the lines without a lot of supervision.
How demeaning it must be for responsible adults, running very large departments and responsible for millions of dollars to have to submit any information they give for vetting by Craig.
Usually, department heads with that kind of responsibility exercise a certain amount of autonomy - in short, they are trusted.
It is an insult to officials who are hired, supposedly, for their experience, professionalism, good sense and judgment.
This type of control did not exist and was not in practice when Steve Stanton, Craig's predecessor, held the city manager office. Stanton was always fully open and access to his staff was complete.
What a pity that similar criteria were not exercised in 2007 when Stanton left and a replacement was needed.
Mayor Pat Gerard held out for seeking an experienced, professional city manager - which is needed in a city like Largo.
But the cronyism on the commission at the time dictated the choice, and the city is paying heavily for that now in a myriad of ways.
Craig may have picked up his fetish for control and secrecy during the almost 30 years he spent in the Army bureaucracy which is notorious for control (usually borne of fear of individual failure and blame).
Our friend, the psychologist, offered another insight - "It is often the unsuccessful who are control freaks," the doctor said. "They live in fear that they will be undone by something that might get by them."
Of course, no names are used here so that the innocent remain protected.
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