Largo commissioner's request to discipline employees who spoke out refused

Commissioner Curtis Holmes wanted action on two who berated him.
Commissioner Curtis Holmes wanted action on two who berated him.
Published Oct. 8, 2014

LARGO — Commissioner Curtis Holmes wants two city employees disciplined for speaking out against him for downloading inappropriate material onto his city-owned iPad.

But it's not going to happen. City Manager Mac Craig said the issue is one of free speech. Craig refused to penalize the two unless the commission as a whole told him to do so. The commission did not. But members did say they want procedures established in case they ever again want to consider censuring a commissioner.

The prospect of censuring a commissioner arose last month after city officials discovered Holmes had downloaded information onto the iPad to email to himself. The materials included sexually tinged images, crude jokes, ethnic and religious slurs, and political articles — items that would cause the immediate firing of a city employee.

Commissioners held a Sept. 30 meeting to discuss censuring Holmes. But after Holmes admitted he'd made a mistake, all except Harriet Crozier backed off.

But before the vote, two Largo employees joined the parade of people who commented on the issue.

One, Georgia Wildrick, who helps tape the meetings, told Holmes he should "man up and take responsibility" for his actions.

The other was Dawn Smolowitz, vice president of the Communication Workers of America, the union that represents Largo's general employees. She also asked for Holmes to take responsibility and asked him to resign.

At the end of Tuesday's meeting, Holmes said he was "very, very surprised" by comments that had been made before he offered a defense.

"I was most surprised by two people on staff who stepped up to that microphone there and their vitriol was, was just shocking," he said. "Mr. Craig, have you taken any disciplinary actions against either one of them especially the one who was on the clock at the time? She was working in the television room. She came out and did her speech and then went back in. That's on company time."

Craig responded: "I have not."

Holmes then added, "Would you please look into that? It's out of the (employee) handbook. I've already read the thing. I've made a real habit of reading that thing now."

Craig: "I don't plan to do anything about that unless the commission as a whole determines that I should."

Holmes: "We'll address it later."

Craig: "I think it was ... an issue of freedom of speech. I had not planned to discipline anybody and I want to know if the commission feels like they should be disciplined."

Mayor Pat Gerard: "I don't think it's the place of the commission to tell you whether to discipline your staff. … In fact, I'm pretty sure it says so in the charter."

Craig: "That's good enough for me."