LARGO – The City Commission will ask Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats to investigate whether any of the city’s elected officials or employees violated the city charter in the months leading up to the firing of former City Manager Steve Stanton in March.
The commission was acting May 15 on a petition signed by some 200 residents who claimed Mayor Pat Gerard, Commissioner Gay Gentry and several city department heads violated the charter in having kept their knowledge of Stanton’s sex change a secret.
The petition points to a city charter provision that requires any elected officials or employees to report any suspicions of misconduct in office to the city commission. They contend he appeared at a convention as Susan Stanton, used city employees to plan his “outing” and spent city money for his personal advantage.
Stanton has admitted to having told a small circle of friends about his plans for a sex change. Gerard said she was one of the first to know, when he told her Jan. 1. He said that circle was growing when someone alerted news reporters to his plans in February.
It is alleged that City Attorney Alan Zimmet and police Chief Lester Aradi tried to keep Stanton’s plans a secret.
While she voted in favor of the investigation, Gentry admitted she knew of Stanton’s activities “before others on this board.” She defended her decision to keep Stanton’s secret because, “he told me he was going to hold off an announcement until school was out for the year.”
She said this was to protect Stanton’s 13-year-old son from having to face classmates.
Gentry then emotionally told other commissioners “if you all don’t like that then you don’t need me up here (on the dais.)”
The only vote against the probe came from Gerard.
“Whatever,” she said. “I have nothing to hide. You all know it all already.”
While she would welcome a probe, she said it would be a waste of time and money.
“We would be doing this just to make a couple of people happy,” Gerard said. She said it would be a waste of money “because they are not going to be happy.”
Commissioner Gigi Arntzen supported an investigation, as did Vice Mayor Harriet Crozier.
“We need to end all of this and move on,” Crozier said.
In bringing up the subject, Commissioner Andy Guyette said, “We need to clear the air.”
Each commissioner had voiced support for the investigation, except Gerard and Commissioner Rodney Woods who wasn’t at the meeting. At one point in the evening, Gerard adjourned the meeting but was interrupted by commissioners who asked how to launch the probe.
Crozier said she had contacted the sheriff’s office and learned they had a unit that specializes in municipal code investigations. She added that she didn’t want questioning of anyone during the probe conducted in public.
Guyette then moved to have the acting city manager contact the sheriff’s office. Gentry seconded the motion and it passed with only Gerard’s “no” vote.
Gerard warned the commissioners they were “on a slippery slope” by launching an investigation “when any responsible citizens come here demanding an investigation for whatever agenda they might have.”
On the day of this meeting, international media attention was drawn to Stanton, dressed as Susan A. Stanton, in the halls of Congress as he met with federal officials on behalf of the transsexual rights organizations for whom Stanton has become a spokesman.
Susan Stanton is scheduled to be interviewed May 29 and 30 for the Sarasota City Manager job.