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Will critic Curtis Holmes mellow as Largo city commissioner?

For years, Curtis Holmes has planted himself behind the microphone at City Hall and given city leaders a piece of his mind, three minutes at a time.

He's asked them to undergo voluntary drug tests.

He's called for an investigation of every official who knew about the former city manager's plan to become a woman.

He's told them he knew better ways of doing things.

Soon, the 60-year-old Holmes, one of the city's most outspoken critics, will be a Largo leader himself. He won Seat 3 on the Largo City Commission on Tuesday, capturing 51 percent of the vote to defeat incumbent Rodney Woods.

Will the tenacious activist be a different man up there on the dais?

Some former city leaders say yes.

"Every person that has ever been elected does change," said Gay Gentry, who served five years on the commission and was called a role model by fellow city leaders.

When you become a commissioner, things aren't black and white anymore, Gentry said. "He can't continue to be the gadfly that he is," she said.

Holmes is a bit of an enigma.

He has made two unsuccessful City Commission runs before. The first was in 1981 against incumbent George McGough. The second was two years ago, when he lost to Woody Brown.

Around 2002, Holmes drew attention at City Hall, when he asked for more time to talk as chairman of the Taxpayers Association, a not-for-profit corporation that opposes the current tax system.

Today, most who regularly view city meetings on TV or online may recognize Holmes as the bearded and bespectacled guy who regularly preaches fiscal frugality. He's urged commissioners to hire an independent auditor and requested an accounting of city legal costs.

He's also made ethics complaints (which were later dismissed) against elected officials, and lectured commissioners that city administrators are manipulating them.

Holmes, who has lived in Largo more than 30 years, is a longtime licensed insurance agent. He's also vice president of a company that sells whoopee cushions.

He volunteers for Second Chance for Strays. And he and his wife, Lucie, have fostered more than 30 stray cats. They also have two of their own: Hobbie and Miss Piggy.

Holmes won't be sworn in until Tuesday, but Thursday, he met with police Chief Lester Aradi and Deputy Chief John Carroll and shared ideas for cutting down on fuel costs with cruisers. Friday, he planned to call the head of public works to find out what department tasks were "taken away" during Steve Stanton's time as city manager.

"There's a whole list of things I want to get into, but I've got to get into it all at once," Holmes said. "It has nothing to do with me. This is stuff that should've been taken care of years ago."

Will his hefty to-do list and his penchant for picking at city administration ruffle feathers at City Hall?

"I don't know if he'll be able to work with me, but I'll be able to work with him," said City Manager Mac Craig.

It remains to be seen "whether he's the same Curtis Holmes he used to be when he was a little bit more fiery," said former Commissioner Charlie Harper, who says he endorsed Holmes chiefly because Woods refused to participate in a candidate forum hosted by the Republican Club of Greater Largo. "He seems to have calmed down, and he seems to have approached things in a different light."

Sometimes, when people become city leaders, the ego takes over, Gentry said. Other times, they "rise to the occasion."

Harper recalled two late, legendary, former city commissioners and their temperament on the commission. Jim Miles was a "bulldog," Harper said. Former Mayor Thom Feaster was more of a diplomat.

"How Curtis Holmes will do, who knows?" Harper said. "Whatever he does will be his impact on the community. And the community will see one way or another, did they make a good decision in electing him or not."

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

Will critic Curtis Holmes mellow as Largo city commissioner? 11/07/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 6, 2009 6:48pm]
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