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LTV series may spotlight commissioners

First there was Booknotes, C-SPAN's show interviewing authors. Then came Inside the Actors Studio, Bravo's program profiling celebrities.

And soon, there may be In Focus, Channel 15's public service series highlighting Largo commissioners.

It may not be sizzling TV, but City Manager Steve Stanton, the Booknotes fan who came up with the idea, thinks the new show will be an effective tool. Instead of exploring Antonio Banderas' turnoffs or Michael Moore's newest satire, the show might detail how city commissioners' lives have shaped their opinions on various issues.

Stanton hopes residents will gain more interest in government and will feel more comfortable approaching officials after learning about their personalities.

"If you get to know your commissioners as individuals, I think you're more apt to pick up the phone," Stanton said. "It puts a personal face on a very impersonal process, which is politics."

Last week, the commission gave Communications and Marketing Manager Karen Barth the okay to produce a trial episode of the 30-minute sit-down interview program, which would focus on the mayor or a different member of the commission each month. If the commission likes the final product, In Focus will air on LTV in December. If not, it may end up on a shelf in the production studio.

Most members of the commission are wary, but they're willing to give it a shot.

Commissioner Charlie Harper thinks In Focus may fly if it's well-researched and tasteful, but he said, "I would not want it if it was a self-gratification type program, and that's what I've seen from other cities and counties."

Commissioner Pat Gerard said she doesn't mind talking about issues, but she's not keen on talking about feelings.

"The things that shape my ideas and attitudes are very personal," she said.

Len Ciecieznski, Pinellas County's senior public information specialist, said the county also likes to put a personal face on government. A couple of public service shows feature commissioners. On Progressive Pinellas, officials discuss issues of the community. "It's a real effective vehicle for us," Ciecieznski said.

A host has not been selected for In Focus, but Barth said she's considering members of the community. The star of the premiere show hasn't been picked either. Barth suggested Stanton. But he said he doesn't want to be in the spotlight.

"It's not relevant what my life experience is," Stanton said.

Mayor Bob Jackson wouldn't mind being the first "guinea pig." The public has the right to know what officials are thinking, he said.

"I think it has a lot of potential if the commission is candid," he said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at lorrisptimes.com.

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