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Largo city manager, police chief move past disagreement on punishments over fixing a ticket

The city manager still thinks the police chief tried to pull a fast one on him. And the chief still thinks the city manager tried to step on his authority.

But for now, Largo police Chief Lester Aradi and City Manager Norton "Mac" Craig are trying to move past a rift that arose over Aradi's discipline of an officer who fixed a ticket.

Aradi, who was suspended by Craig for three days, worried that his ability to run his department and his reputation were damaged by the first suspension of his 35-year police career.

Craig, who said he liked the chief, worried that Aradi would resign.

That's not going to happen, at least for now.

Last week, Aradi said he was going to take the same advice he gave others years ago as a hostage negotiator.

"One of the things you tell people is not to make a permanent decision over a temporary situation," he said.

About 9 a.m. Thursday, Craig greeted Aradi in his office to welcome him back to work.

They talked for a half-hour or more.

"It was two gentlemen talking very respectfully to each other and Mac Craig is still in my mind a class act," Aradi said.

Both men said their conversation was civil despite major disagreements over how the city's discipline policies should be interpreted.

Craig maintains he suspended the chief because Aradi showed poor judgment in suspending, rather than firing, Officer Anthony Citrano, who violated two codes of conduct that explicitly call for termination.

In certain serious cases, the policies don't have wiggle room, he said.

Aradi disagrees. He says the policies say numerous factors should be considered, including overall performance. And his department's policies say that each case is to be considered individually.

But Aradi said he was heartened that, during their talk, Craig told him the city may take another look at its code of conduct, revised in 2004.

Aradi said the policies need to be reviewed.

Craig wasn't so enthusiastic. He said he needed feedback from department directors before making any decisions to revise the codes.

"We're going to talk to all directors before we make a change to city policy," Craig said.

Last week, before Aradi returned from his suspension and a four-day vacation in Key West with his wife and two dogs, more tension played out behind the scenes.

Both Craig and Susan Sinz, the city's human resources director, said Citrano's case was handled differently than other similar cases.

Sinz said Aradi usually consults her about major discipline cases, but he didn't this time.

"On the bigger ones, I'm always in the loop," she said.

But Aradi said since he came to the city in 2001 he was told the human resources department was there to provide guidance, not second-guess his decisions.

"At no time have I ever been told that I don't have the final authority for firing," Aradi said Wednesday. "Now I guess I have, but it was in the form of a suspension."

Craig also alleged that Citrano, a model DUI enforcement officer who was next in line to become sergeant, was given preferential treatment. Craig, who was on vacation in Africa while much of the Citrano case was playing out in May, thinks it was fast-tracked so he wouldn't have a chance to weigh in on it.

Around June 3, Craig returned and learned that Citrano had been suspended a couple of days earlier. Then, it was too late to fire Citrano because it would have been considered an unfair labor practice, according to federal labor law.

"Nobody can convince me that they didn't have a plan there to save a golden guy," Craig said Wednesday.

Aradi maintained the case was handled routinely.

"It followed the normal course of events that a normal discipline case But by Thursday morning, both men said they were ready to move on.

Craig told Aradi the issue was over. And Aradi told him he felt the same.

"I mean it," Craig said. "And I hope he does, too."

Aradi said he was ready to get back to work.

"I love this city very much," he said, "and this continuous banter in the paper is not good for the city."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Largo city manager, police chief move past disagreement on punishments over fixing a ticket 06/27/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 27, 2009 4:31am]
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