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Safety Harbor official willing, not always present

Claude Rigsby has spent much of his life serving Safety Harbor.

He was born in the city, worked as police chief, spent eight years as a city commissioner and another eight as mayor. He even oversaw the construction of City Hall.

So when an interim seat on the City Commission opened up after former Mayor Pam Corbino resigned, commissioners thought selecting Rigsby was a no-brainer.

But Rigsby's health has made it difficult for him to serve as vigorously as in the past.

At 81, he doesn't hear well and was diagnosed 15 months ago with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), considered the most benign and slowly progressing form of the disease. He must get shots three times a week and four hours of intravenous medicine every Tuesday.

Rigsby has also been hospitalized four times in less than four months. The last time was on Nov. 16 when he woke up at 4 a.m. with breathing problems.

Because of his hospitalization, he missed last Monday's commission meeting.

He has missed two regular commission meetings and two special meetings since he was appointed in late July.

The city charter allows commissioners unlimited excused absences. All of Rigsby's absences have been excused.

In contrast, when Corbino said she could not attend a June meeting because she had injured her back, the commission did not excuse the absence.

Rigsby was able to attend a special meeting held Monday night.

"I'm feeling really good,'' he said last week, adding that his physicians at first thought he had pneumonia two weeks ago, but it turned out he had a dangerously low white blood cell count. "I had a blood transfusion.''

Rigsby was born in 1925 with his twin brother. Their mother died 12 days later from complications from the delivery.

He served as a gunner's mate in the Navy during World War II. When he came home in the 1950s, he began his long service to the city. The commission job pays $400 a month.

Commissioners contacted by the Times last week said they fully support Rigsby and are not worried about his absences.

Some seemed offended the newspaper would even ask whether it was becoming a problem.

"What he added was a wealth of knowledge of the city,'' said City Commissioner James McCormick. "This isn't his first rodeo. He (didn't) have to have a learning curve. To tap into that institutional knowledge, it's worth it.''

When asked, McCormick did not give any example of tapping into Rigsby's knowledge, but said it is there if he needs it.

Andy Steingold, who as vice mayor took over as mayor when Corbino left, said Rigsby's absences have not affected the way the commission conducts business. Steingold did not anticipate that Rigsby would miss any of the seven meetings scheduled before the interim term ends in March.

"It was not a mistake to appoint Commissioner Rigsby, who brings a vast history and knowledge of the goings on in Safety Harbor,'' he said.

"If and when the time comes when Commissioner Rigsby is unable to attend any meetings, we as a commission will address (the issue).''

City Commissioner Kathleen Earle said Rigsby is so committed to Safety Harbor that "he has postponed blood transfusions to attend meetings.''

"I think he has put the health of the city over his own on more than one occasion,'' she said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.

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