The City Commission voted to begin the process of firing a top official less than a week after he announced plans to pursue a sex-change operation.

The 5-to-2 vote Tuesday started a three-step process to remove City Manager Steve Stanton from the job he's held for 14 years.

Stanton, 48, confirmed last week that he is a transsexual. With a solid reputation as a forceful and energetic leader, he had hoped to keep his $140,000-a-year job as he underwent the gender reassignment process.

"It's just painful to know seven days ago I was a good guy and now ... I have no integrity," Stanton told the commission. "My challenge here has always been that someday I was going to leave this organization. So I am going to do it with a smile on my face."

Stanton can appeal the decision, though his contract says he can be fired without cause at any time.

He will be placed on paid leave while the city begins the legal process to end his contract. The council must vote again to formally fire him.

Mayor Patricia Gerard and Commissioner Rodney Woods cast the dissenting votes.

"He's done a great job for us," Gerard said. "He's done what we asked him to do and taken the heat over and over and over again and now we're going to turn on him."

Commissioner Mary Gray Black said Stanton's surprise announcement last week "caused stress, turmoil, distraction and work disruption" among other city employees.

"I do not feel he has the integrity, nor the trust, nor the respect, nor the confidence to continue as the city manager of the city of Largo," said Black, who introduced a resolution to fire Stanton on Monday.

About 500 people attended the meeting. Dozens signed up to speak, some praising Stanton and others saying the exposure of his secret life undermined his ability to lead the city.

City officials say they have received hundreds of e-mails about Stanton's announcement, most calling for his removal.

Largo is a city of about 76,000 about 22 miles west of Tampa.