Not a Word on Fire Department’s Unraveling or Future As Flagler Beach Commission Meets
FlaglerLive | March 1, 2013
Business droned on as usual at the Flagler Beach City Commission meeting on February 28, with near total silence about an alcohol scandal that gutted this quaint oceanside city’s Fire Department.
Neither city staff, nor elected officials talked about the firing of five Fire Department personnel after an independent investigation. The firings included the fire chief, two paid full-time firefighters and two volunteer firefighters.
Another firefighter was suspended three days in an unrelated investigation.
There was no crush of residents jamming the meeting to voice their opinion about the firings.
Only one resident of the less than dozen people who attended the meeting spoke about the Fire Department. He said the actions of those fired, especially the fire chief, showed a lack of respect for the city manager and Flagler Beach elected officials. “According to what I’ve read in the newspaper, some people think you should take them back, but I don’t think you should. They’ll just show the same lack of respect.”
In a brief interview after the City Commission meeting, City Manager Bruce Campbell said he was in a waiting mode as far as the future of the Fire Department personnel. The fired firefighters have 30 days to appeal. No one has formally appealed at this point, Campbell said.
Volunteer firefighters have been moved at least temporarily into paid positions, so the Fire Department has staff all its shifts.
Pressed to comment on the future of his plans to staff the Fire Department and whether a search would be conducted to replace the fire chief, the city manager was tight-lipped. “I really can’t comment,” Campbell said.
The city manager took action to fire the firefighters in letters dated February 15 and 16, acting on the results of an independent investigation by a Winter Park law firm,
Fire Chief Martin Roberts and volunteer firefighters Steven W. Wood and Barbara Haspiel were fired after the investigation determined they three responded to a fire on Dec. 14, 2012 after drinking alcohol at a Fire Department holiday party. Additionally, the investigation determined that Roberts directed Steven W. Wood to respond to the fire and drive a city fire truck even though the chief knew Steven W. Wood had drank alcohol at the party.
Firefighters Jacob Bissonnette and Shane S. Wood were fired after the investigation determined they bought, accepted, stored and drank alcohol at a Fire Station.
The investigation described the Fire Department as wracked by discord and divided into two warring factions.
In an unrelated case, firefighter Bobby Pace was suspended three days without pay for padding the number of hours worked by a volunteer performing court-ordered community service hours.
None of this was even mentioned by the City Commission or city staff during meetings on February 28.
Meeting first as the Community Redevelopment Agency, the elected officials talked for more than an hour about signs to direct pedestrians to local businesses.
Meeting as the City Commission, there was lengthy discussion about signs for Florida Health Foods. City staff had issued a permit for one sign, but not a taller sign. The taller sign could be refaced without a permit because it was a legal, non-conforming structure. However, after the business owner took down the sign, city staff said a new sign could not be erected.
The purpose of non-conforming status is to eventually get rid of something that either never, or no longer meets local standards. Once a non-conforming structure is taken down or abandoned, it cannot be replaced. However, four members of the City Commission agreed with the business owner that taking down and replacing rotted wood on the sign is refacing and allowed.
Commissioner Joy McGrew disagreed. “What you did by taking down old sign and replacing it, that is not refacing it in my world.”
In another matter the city manager told commissioners and the mayor he’s waiting for more information from Dick Holmberg about the $10 million plan to put concrete structures on the ocean floor to build sand back up on the coastline in Flagler County.
A letter from Campbell asked Holmberg to comply with a contract requiring him to provide a course of action on how to proceed with his plan, a breakdown of costs and how to apply for permits.
Campbell also said the County Council is expected to discuss on March 4 an Army Corps of Engineers plan for dune renourishment along two miles of beach. After some discussion, several City Commission members said they would attend the meeting and ask for more time if the County Council decides to vote on whether or not to proceed with the Corps’ plan.
Finally, an ordinance setting noise standards received a first approval from the City Commission. A public hearing and second vote will be needed before it becomes law.