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Largo police Chief Aradi receives heavy community support after city manager suspends him

Calls and e-mails are streaming into City Hall in support of Largo police Chief Lester Aradi, who was suspended for three days for his handling of a discipline matter.

City Manager Mac Craig said he disciplined the chief because Aradi used poor judgment in suspending rather than terminating an officer who fixed a traffic ticket.

"I've gotten some very warm feedback from the community saying we appreciate everything you've done here," Aradi said Friday afternoon.

Aradi, who is chairman of the Pinellas Police Standards Council and just stepped down as chairman of the Florida Police Chiefs Association legislative committee, said he's received about two dozen calls from chiefs throughout the state. About two dozen friends also called to wish him well. And by early afternoon, two citizens called the department to say they were on his side.

His supporters included the wife of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Beverly Young, who was instrumental in fundraising for the late Largo Police Lt. Michael Renault, before he lost his battle with cancer in February.

Aradi did "the right thing," especially in light of the state's high unemployment, she wrote. "Firing an officer because of a stupid literally harmless indiscretion, would have been a travesty."

By early afternoon, the chief had received about a half dozen e-mails from colleagues and citizens.

Some just offered support. Others railed against the city manager.

"It's a sad and embarrassing day, for all Largo residents when a City Manager steps in and interferes with the safety of those residents, because he was unhappy with how you handled an internal employee issue," wrote resident Jeremy T. Slater.

But at least two commissioners reached Friday said they backed Craig and his decision.

"(He) stuck up for what he thought he was right," Commissioner Harriet Crozier said. "(Aradi) has a duty to perform and that's what I think he should have done."

"I support the city manager in the action he took," Vice Mayor Gigi Arntzen said. "I think it was appropriate."

Both the chief and the city manager stuck by their decisions Friday and pointed to elements of the City's Code of Conduct that back their decisions.

Aradi, who will begin his suspension Monday, said that the code itself says that it provides "working guidelines to encourage equitable and businesslike conduct."

Craig pointed out that the code also says that immediate discharge is called for when employees commit certain serious offenses.

"There's a point in time where you say, 'Here's the line.' It's not ethical for a police officer to fix a ticket," Craig said.

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

Largo police Chief Aradi receives heavy community support after city manager suspends him 06/20/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 20, 2009 4:31am]
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