LARGO, Fla. – City commissioners early Saturday finalized the firing of a city manager who is seeking a sex-change operation, despite pleas from dozens of impassioned supporters to save his job.
After a six-hour hearing, the commissioners decided to fire 48-year-old Steve Stanton after his announcement that he planned a new life as a woman. The move came after the commission voted 5-2 last month to suspend him with pay.
Commissioners contended Stanton was being fired because they lost confidence in him, not because he wants to be a woman.
"I think we're pretty well convinced," Commissioner Gay Gentry said. "You have to believe us, you have to trust us, it is not about transgenderism."
Stanton, 48, triggered the debate in the city of 76,000 west of Tampa last month when he announced his plans at a news conference. Commissioners said Stanton's announcement caused turmoil and work disruption in the city. His contract says he can be fired without cause at any time.
Stanton has not decided if he will sue over the firing.
"I was optimistic, but I knew it would be very difficult to slow down the train," he said following the hearing.
Stanton had asked commissioners to give city employees and the community "an opportunity to show they can embrace a transgender city manager because that person is competent based on their skills, knowledge and education."
Most of more than 70 other speakers — including gay and lesbian activists and transgender people — spoke passionately in favor of Stanton.
"I don't want the city of Largo to be the poster child for bigotry and discrimination," resident Mary Jensen told commissioners.
But others said Stanton bullied city employees, and the publicity generated by his announcement has cast the city in a negative light.
"This little thing has made Largo the laughingstock of the whole country," resident Jimmy Dean told commissioners. "It's a disgrace."
The city commission had given Stanton generally good reviews and a hefty raise last year for his management of the city's $130 million budget and roughly 1,200 employees. But since commissioners put Stanton on leave, some have criticized him for hard-nosed treatment of employees.
Stanton planned to change his name legally in August and begin living as a woman before having gender reassignment surgery in summer 2008.
He drafted an eight-page transition plan to prepare his employees and pursue the sex-change operation. He planned to announce the change this summer. But a St. Petersburg Times reporter learned his secret and he was forced to come out at a City Hall press conference on Feb. 21.