1. Archive

Hurry to fill city spot put them in tight one

A questionable process, and a rushed one at that, not surprisingly has led to a problematic outcome in Safety Harbor.

Interim City Commissioner Claude Rigsby, 81, has serious health problems and is missing city meetings and struggling to keep up. He is scheduled to serve until March.

Rigsby doesn't hear well and sometimes has to have things repeated to him or be prompted by his commission colleagues during meetings. But more seriously, Rigsby is suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, for which he must receive several injections and four hours of intravenous medication each week. Since Rigsby took office in late July, he has been hospitalized four times.

City commissioners knew that Rigsby was in declining health when they appointed him to replace Commissioner Andy Steingold, who moved up to interim mayor when Pam Corbino resigned that post unexpectedly July 19. Commissioners had not even announced a process for people to apply for the interim commissioner post when they quickly, and unanimously, appointed Rigsby less than a week later at a special Saturday meeting.

Commissioners have defended their decision, saying they chose Rigsby for his knowledge of the city. Rigsby was a commissioner and mayor of Safety Harbor during the 1970s and early '80s.

The commissioners' theory is a good one, given that the current commission is rather inexperienced. However, among those who offered to fill the interim post were some who had served the city more recently, were better informed on local government's current challenges and whose health was not questionable.

Elected officials who must appoint a replacement to an elected city post are acting in the voters' stead. They have an obligation to make sure that the person they appoint is equipped to serve in the way voters expect. In this case, the voters had elected Andy Steingold, an energetic young lawyer, to represent them. Now they have Rigsby, who is doing his best to serve in the taxing position of city commissioner, but whose struggle is apparent to commission watchers. There is nothing that commissioners can realistically do now.

This is not a condemnation of Rigsby. He served the city with devotion for many years. When the openings occurred on the commission this summer, he eagerly volunteered and was delighted to be back in the saddle in City Hall. He has done his best, even as his body betrayed his efforts. We hope his health improves as time goes by.

The situation is, however, an example of why it is important for local government officials to cast a wide net for applicants for interim elected positions, methodically review the applicants, and then choose carefully.