LARGO — In 2004, after more than 20 years of volunteering around City Hall and helping other people get elected, Gigi Arntzen decided it was time to run for the City Commission. She lost the March 2005 election, but she ran again in 2006 and won.
If only she had known what she was getting herself into.
After a six-year stint that included the Steve Stanton sex-change controversy and years of declining revenue and budget cuts, Arntzen, 62, has decided she will not run for re-election in 2012.
"The fire, I guess, is not in me anymore," she said Thursday in City Hall as she reflected on her time in office. "It's really been six tough years."
Less than a year into her first term, Arntzen had to deal with an unexpected media firestorm. Former City Manager Steve Stanton disclosed in February 2007 that he planned to undergo a sex-change operation. Stanton had told a few commissioners, but not all of them, before the story broke.
Arntzen was one of five commissioners who voted to fire Stanton a month later.
Mayor Pat Gerard, one of the two who voted to keep Stanton, called that the one serious disagreement she ever had with Arntzen.
"That was a particularly ugly period in our history," said Gerard, who otherwise had only praise for Arntzen. "She's very conscientious, and always did her homework … Very fair-minded."
Arntzen has no regrets over how she voted. "We made the right decision," said Arntzen, who added that Stanton could have kept his job if he had been more up-front with the commission.
When that ended, Arntzen and the rest of the commission faced a challenge common to governments across the country — revenues dropped off a cliff. Largo has cut $12 million in general fund spending since 2008. The city's staffing has dropped from 938 full-time equivalent jobs in 2007 to 875 in 2012, and more cuts are planned for next year.
Arntzen said she's proud of the job the staff and the commission have done weathering the economic storm without having to drastically cut services.
She's not finished working for Largo, but after November it will be in a volunteer capacity. Arntzen plans to join one of the city's advisory boards. She served on several between the 1970s and 2003, when she retired after 30 years as a secretary or office manager in various departments of Pinellas County government.
Before running for the commission in 2005, Arntzen managed several successful campaigns, including those of Commissioner Harriet Crozier.
"You could trust her. You knew she wasn't going to steer you wrong," Crozier said of her former campaign manager.
While Arntzen thinks she's done running for office, she is interested in getting back into managing campaigns. That job can be hard, she said, but there's a perk: It ends on election day. For some of those running for office this year, Nov. 6 will only mark the beginning.
Arntzen's Seat 4 is one of three commission spots up in November's election. Commissioner Curtis Holmes (Seat 3) and Mayor Gerard have both indicated they intend to run for re-election.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.