City Stonewalls Commissioner on Request of Records
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Mayor Pat Gerard invented new powers nowhere to be found in the City Charter and the city manager, Norton Craig, boldly denied, in a shaky voice, a conversation he had with a commissioner.
It all happened at Tuesday's City Commission meeting.
And Commissioner Curtis Holmes, who has been unearthing information in Largo for the past 11 months that certain powers wanted kept secret, was in the middle of all of the hullabaloo.
Apparently Gerard is of the belief that she has powers she doesn't have. What is clear is that she has no notion whatsoever about the City Charter as it applies to her office.
Every word she said on the subject at the end of the meeting about the role of commission members seeking information was incorrect.
To believe Craig's denial about what Holmes asserted one would have to subscribe to the notion that Holmes made up information about things it was impossible for him to know.
With a possible investigation by the State Department of Revenue in the offing, it is understandable why stonewalling, obfuscation, asserting false powers is running rampant among some Largo officialdom.
These are the kinds of behaviors psychologists say are driven by fear. If that is the case, some in Largo perhaps have a lot to fear. Insiders have said this fear is rampant in City Hall.
Background - two weeks ago, because of questions raised by reports of a cash register being consistently left open while transactions are made at the bar (a red flag with blinking lights) at the Cultural Center, Holmes asked for receipts of all the items bought for sale by the bar.
Those are listed in the budget by totals. Holmes wanted receipts from individual purveyors. It was a simple matter of gathering up some paper work and forwarding it to him.
In fact, Joan Byrne, director of Parks, Recreation and Arts, who was to gather the information reported in the Manager's Report of last Friday - "…staff is gathering information and a report of the itemized invoices for beverages…"
Holmes said he did not want a report, just the invoices.
Then Commissioners Gigi Arntzen and Bob Murray issued email screeds last week criticizing Holmes's request, making false claims in their writings.
Holmes never got the receipts. He asked about that Tuesday night.
He was informed that he could not have them.
Gerard intoned that any such requests had to go through her and then would be forwarded to the city manager.
She could not have been more wrong.
Here, from the City Charter, are the exact words applying to the job of and powers of the mayor -
"Sec. 2.03 - The mayor shall be elected at large for a term of three (3) years, shall be a voting member of the city commission and preside at meetings of the city commission, appoint with the advice and consent of the city commission the members of citizen advisory boards and commissions, appoint the members and officers of commission committees and perform other duties specified by the commission. The mayor or his or her designee shall represent the city commission in intergovernmental relationships. The mayor shall be recognized as the head of the city government for all ceremonial purposes and by the governor for purposes of military law. However, the mayor shall have no administrative duties. As the representative of the city commission the mayor shall exercise general supervision over the city manager and all other persons working for the city but not under the control of the city manager and may examine into the condition of their offices and the books, records and papers therein, and the manner of conducting their official business."
On the other hand, Holmes is fully empowered under the Charter to do what he was doing.
"Sec. 2.07(b) Except for the purpose of inquiries and investigations, the city commission and its members shall deal with the city officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the city manager solely through the city manager…"
To underline the Holmes position, the key words are "Except for the purpose of inquiries and investigations" and "shall deal with city officers and employees…solely through the city manager."
Holmes made his inquiry to Byrne through Henry Schubert, assistant city manager, who was sitting in for the absent Craig September 21.
As to Craig's denial of a conversation with Holmes, that concerned Holmes's initiative on speeding up the annexation process in coordination with the county.
During two conversations in Craig's office, Holmes has said the subject of annexing the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport sometime in the future came up and Holmes says that Craig said he had "an ironclad agreement on that which will hold up in court."
At the September 21 commission meeting a discussion of annexation came up. Craig was absent at that meeting. Mike Staffopoulos, an assistant city manager, denied any knowledge whatsoever of the information when Holmes mentioned what Craig had told him.
Holmes was astounded. He sent Craig an e-mail (never responded to) asking for an explanation suggesting that Craig had "deliberately deceived me"; "Staffopoulos was wrong," and "you will deny it."
Craig chose option 3, as demonstrated Tuesday.
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