LARGO – Responding to criticism from residents on the issue, three of the Largo commissioners spoke out in favor of city staff volunteering in the community during their hours working for the city.
Specifically at issue during the Jan. 8 commission meeting is the city’s involvement in a science fair at Ridgecrest Elementary School on Jan. 29. Last month, the school, which is in the unincorporated part of Largo, asked the city if its employees could help judge the event. Employees have participated in the past, but they are volunteering their time to judge the event during a workday morning.
Commissioner Curtis Holmes echoed the objections residents raised in regards to the policy.
“Taxpayers are paying these people to perform a job. And part of that job, I don’t think, involves going to a grammar school that I went to last year and judging a science fair for elementary students,” he said. “If the staff that’s volunteering for this wish to take a personal day or a vacation day, I have no problem with that at all. But if they’re going to go out there while on city time doing ancillary work that’s got absolutely nothing to do with the city of Largo, I have a big problem on that.”
Holmes called the current policy a “conversion of city property.”
Aside from the science fair, city employees also help out Habitat for Humanity’s construction effort, during what is dubbed “Largo Day,” and participate in the Great American Teach-in once a year.
“There is no difference between City staff helping out Ridgecrest while being paid than there is to volunteer and take a day off to help build a Habitat for Humanity home and being paid,” City Manager Mac Craig stated in an email on the issue last month.
He reiterated his argument during the meeting.
“I think it’s a valuable thing to do, but I don’t want to be caught in the middle,” he said. “We have a few people that go do it. It’s not anything big. Supervisors let them go. And it’s over at lunchtime.”
Commissioner Michael Smith was the first to speak in favor of the policy.
“I have no problem with us continuing this,” he said. “I think this is a great opportunity to get out there with our kids and support them and let them know that we care about their education.”
Commissioner Robert Murray also supported the concept.
“You talk about running things like a business – businesses throughout Pinellas County send employees to attend these kind of events,” he said.
Mayor Pat Gerard emphasized that she was in favor of the measure on a “limited basis.”
“I think the whole point is letting them see what it takes to run their city, and what kind of jobs might be available to them in the future,” she said.
Holmes argued that not only did the city have plenty of volunteers available within community groups and even its senior advisory board, but also had a plethora of groups that could use the help of volunteers.
“Where are you going to draw the line on this stuff?” he questioned.