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Shupe and Carney Clash as Fire Merger Referendum Proposal Enflames Flagler Beach Commission

| May 24, 2013

Marshall Shupe was not happy with Kim Carney. (© FlaglerLive)

Marshall Shupe was not happy with Kim Carney. (© FlaglerLive)

It was wrestling time again at the Flagler Beach City Commission Thursday evening. The contestants this time: Commissioners Marshall Shupe and Kim Carney. The issue: fire department consolidation. The charge: Shupe questioned Carney’s veracity.

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Shupe’s outburst may have had as much to do with countering Carney’s effectively maneuvering the commission two weeks earlier into informal talks with the county about a potential merger as it did with deflecting the more politically substantial issue of the evening: Commissioner Joy McGrew proposed holding a referendum next March, throwing the consolidation matter to voters directly. Shupe, a volunteer firefighter and the fire department’s strongest lifeline on the commission, has been using his position to protect the department. A referendum would renduce his voice to one vote at the ballot box. So the likely battle over the coming months will be over whether the city should hold that referendum or not.

Mounting an emotional defense of a fire department he has increasingly been identifying his commission service with, Shupe criticized Carney and directly challenged her talks with county officials on the fire matter. Carney in April and again in May sparked debate with her request to direct City Manager Bruce Campbell to investigate possible cost savings from a merger. Her April Attempt was snuffed out when Campbell withdrew her item from the agenda.

Shupe said he asked questions of county officials and was surprised when answers paralleled comments by Carney during the City Commission meeting in April. The commission more fully discussed Carney’s proposal on May 9, when it unanimously agreed that each commissioner would get to submit written questions and have Campbell seek out the answers. Meetings between Campbell and county officials, or between individual commissioners and county officials, would be allowed, but with no decision-making authority.

With the April meeting still fueling his retrained anger, Shupe said also was upset about a flier with information about the proposed merger making the rounds in the audience at the April meeting. “What bothers me is when I see a piece of information out there when I don’t have it,” he said.

Shupe said he learned that Carney met with county officials, which she denied doing, though she would have had every right to do. There could also be a matter of definition: Carney may not have met with top staff or commissioners, but with lower-ranked staff who wouldn’t be considered “county officials,” though the distinction would be a semantic stretch in the context of the city commission’s discussion. The more essential difference turned out to be over the meaning of “meeting”: Carney does not consider talks over the phone to be meetings.

“I wasn’t aware, Kim, that you had gone to such detail of asking these questions” of county officials about a proposed merger of fire and emergency medical services, Shupe said. He said he always makes it clear he’s not asking on behalf of the City Commission when he asks for information, even though Carney never claimed she told county officials that there was a consensus in the city for the merger, nor would county officials be under that impression: the city commission’s acrimony over the merger issue is broadly known and reported.

Fighting to save the reputation and mission of the Fire Department, Shupe disputed possible cost savings of going with the county, asserting–with little evidence–that payments to the county would increase as time goes on and claiming that the interim fire chief had proposed $75,000 in cuts.

As for the city’s fire-rescue rating (Carney had pointed out that Flagler Beach’s insurance rating was lower than the county’s, with regards to its fire service, an indication of service quality), Shupe said a major improvement could be made by designating more officers and establishing training programs. That, of course, is costly. He acknowledged that the Fire Department had not had training programs in recent years. Lack of training programs would be something very unusual for any fire or police department. Flagler County Fire Rescue personnel trains routinely.

“I’ve been struggling with what word I can use over the air to show I’m embarrassed,” Shupe said as he struggled to keep his outrage contained about efforts to spread information from the county about a merger. But he needn’t have worried about what went out on the cyber-air, the live streaming of the City Commission meeting on the internet having yet again failed to work.

Kim Carney (© FlaglerLive)

Kim Carney (© FlaglerLive)

Carney, who had previously made her comments, asked to speak again after Shupe’s verbal attack. She denied meeting with county officials, saying she called Flagler Fire Rescue Chief Don Petito to ask questions, as any commissioner, indeed any resident, has a right to do. “I asked for something and received it,” Carney said. “Any person has that right.”

“I never met with chief Petito,” Carney stressed. Denying having any face-to-face meetings with the county, she said, in a pointed remark at Shupe: “Don’t call me a liar.” Raising an image of cattiness among city firefighters, she said, “If the boys in the club want to talk about me, they can do that.” When the city’s fire department was the subject of an independent investigation earlier this year–the investigation that led to the firing of the chief, the assistant chief, a fire fighter paramedic and two volunteers–the document pointed out that the department was split between two cliques. The firings eliminated one of the two cliques, leaving the other in place.

Carney said she merely wanted in April to put a motion out formally with the City Commission to investigate possible cost savings. “I did not do this disparagingly,” she said. “I did not do this maliciously.” The motion she introduced failed, only to have Commissioner Jane Mealy’s variation on the same motion pass unanimously. The distinction was between formal and informal talks. But Carney got what she wanted: talks with the county, nevertheless giving the county the formal opening it needed to make proposals with hard numbers.

Neither Shupe, nor Carney expressed an opinion about the suggestion that sparked their incendiary exchange during the public meeting.

Flagler Beach’s Fire Department was rocked by scandal in February after the independent investigation confirmed charges of alcohol use by city firefighters, including some who responded to a fire call under the influence and others who bought, stored and drank alcohol while on duty at the fire station.

Five firefighters, including Chief Martin Roberts, were fired. Paid firefighters Jacob Bissonnette and Shane S. Wood were also fired along with volunteer firefighters Steven W. Wood and Barbara Haspiel. They are not done appealing the city’s actions.

In an unrelated scandal, firefighter Bobby Pace was suspended three days without pay after falsifying the records of the hours worked by a person assigned to perform community service by the court. The Flagler Beach Police Department filed a felony charge of tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice against Pace. The state attorney has yet to decide whether to formalize the charges or dismiss them. Pace remains on the job.

The Fire Department was not on the Flagler Beach agenda Thursday evening (May 23), but Commissioner Joy McGrew raised the issue that shattered the calm and swiftness of the meeting by suggesting the elected officials consider holding a referendum in March to ask voters whether the city should merge its fire-rescue under the county.

“We are the voice of the people, all of the people in this community, that’s who needs to have the say-so,” McGrew said. “My opinion is that we put it in as a referendum in the March elections.” McGrew said taxpayers “need to be informed” and that the proposed merger is complicated with many questions to get answered, but that there was no hurry. “I don’t think it has to be in this next budget,” she said.

City officials should compile information about a fire-rescue merger with the county and write a fact sheet to send to taxpayers. The information and referendum should be written simply.

“If there’s something we need to find to know let’s find the answer then educate the public,” McGrew said. “Let them decide if we make the change.”

“Point well taken,” Commission Chairman Steve Settle said. “It’s hard to deny a lot of those things. Unfortunately, a lot of us were caught not ready to make such a monumental decision. Is this something you plan to put on the next City Commission agenda?”

McGrew said she did not necessarily plan to put her idea of holding a referendum on the next agenda. She said there was no hurry and through investigation commissioners might decide they don’t need a referendum. So the matter was dropped.

It was then that the exchange between Shupe and Carney followed. (At the last meeting of the commission, Settle and Mealy won the evening’s Hatfield and McCoy medal).

When the cordite smell dissipated, Mealy, whose long years as an educator honed her sense of irony, took her turn to make comments. Several people on the commission and in the audience chuckled when Mealy softly began her comments with, “Kim and I did participate in the potato festival.”

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22 Responses for “Shupe and Carney Clash as Fire Merger Referendum Proposal Enflames Flagler Beach Commission”

  1. Rick Belhumeur says:

    Many months ago I had some questions about what the savings could be to the City of Flagler Beach by merging it’s fire department with the county’s fire department. I went to the County Administrator’s office and as a taxpayer asked what those savings could potentially be. Mr. Coffee called me later that same day and answered my question. I also saw chief Petito in a parking lot and asked him a few questions that he answered without hesitation. Does that mean that I had meetings with county officials or did members of the county staff answer a citizen’s questions? Kim has every right as a citizen to ask questions. All of the commissioners were elected to represent the citizens and should be making educated decisions. That means that if they don’t know something they are obligated to ask questions. As for Joy’s suggestion for a referendum vote, I think it is a good idea. The voting taxpayers should make the ultimate decision, and it needs to be an educated one. I would suggest to the Commissioners that they ask all the hard questions and present an unbiased report of their findings to the public so that their conclusions will also be educated ones.

  2. Frances says:

    In my opinion, we need to keep our fire department. Once it is gone we will not get it back and I do not believe we will get the same service from the County fire department that is already stretched thin.

  3. Truth of the matter says:

    Frances, With all due respect but Mr.Belhumeur stated it correctly above, by saying an “‘educated decision” is needed here. You are correct in one thing, that you will not get the “same service from the County”,NO, you will get a higher level of service. This is the very reason, we need to have an “educated decision” and that people clearly understand the facts, and leave emotion out of it.

  4. Kip Durocher says:

    I find it interesting that all the folks in favor of a merger seem to already know that we Flagler Beach residents will get “higher level of service” and “cost savings” before any real discussions, analysis and accurate fact finding has been done. It seems that their “informed decision” has already been made. It appears that this pro consolidation group has all the facts they need. But where did they get the facts, if, as repeatedly stated, no real analysis and discussion has happened. Statements by some council members lead me to believe that their decision has been made and they will now hunt for “facts” to support their decision. This matter is definitely one that needs to go to a referendum vote that is not guided by some into the direction that they have already decided they want it to go. Much more open minded discussion is necessary.

  5. Old news says:

    This same topic comes up every 5-8 years. When it was a concern years ago the chamber was PACKED with residents wanting their own fire department. If the county could cut $200,000 out it would be less than $10 difference for each resident. So would you give up your fire department for $10?
    The county can turn around in a year or two and raise the cost.
    If Kim is so worried about saving money, is she looking at other departments?
    How much is the police budget?
    I think Kim has other motives!

  6. What a joke says:

    If the city is so crunched on this budget why do I see a BRAND NEW GARBAGE TRUCK driving around?? Before you eliminate one department think about cutting other departments budgets. Police? Garbage? The department that plants new trees around the city! It’s not that hard. If that’s the case I just might run for city commission!

    • John Smith says:

      Joke, for your information the new garbage truck or anything else that has to do with sanitation does not come out of your taxes it is a enterprise fund that pays for the new truck. I am sure BP cut $75,000 out of the budget because he got rid of a chief, and ass chief and a firefighter. Let him show us what he cut other than that from the fire dept that equals $75,000. Oh ye he can now pay for the LT positions.
      Why is Shupe having such a say in what is happening. Isn”t that a conflict of interest.

  7. Sherry Epley says:

    Right On Kip! My thoughts exactly! Why is it that anyone opposed to moving fire fighting services to the county are reminded that we don’t have enough information. . . and then told that services would be better at the county level? I certainly agree that we need more information, and that this vital decision should be made by our community voters.

    It seems that our city manager has not been given the time and opportunity to improve the quality of personnel and services of that department. Cross training of police, code enforcement, EMT and fire fighting services should at least be considered.

    From a larger, community evolution, point of view. . . I respectfully again submit my past remarks for consideration:

    Living in Flagler Beach, in a flood zone, near the ocean already means our home insurance rates are sky high. I would like to know the impact on those insurance rates, if we turn over control of our fire safety to the county.

    Our situation “on a barrier island, at the beach” is a bit different than the main land. In addition to being separated by the bottle neck of a bridge, we are subject to higher risks in case of hurricane. Our unique requirements, in such an emergency, should certainly be taken into consideration.

    I have already read many stories about problems with the county’s fire services being stretched to the limit.
    How can we heap more responsibility on them and expect a higher quality of service for Flagler Beach?

    Costs are costs. . . surely the county does not have some sort of magic way of hiring true professionals and buying the required equipment at a lower cost. We will all be required to pay for those services either way.

    My concern is about control and culture. . . in addition to costs. Are we really willing to give up control of such vital services and the cultural pride of community volunteering just to save what will probably end up being just a few bucks (less than $25?) per year, per family? The culture of small towns is not destroyed by one massive blow. . . villages are turned in “suburbs” little by little with such eroding decisions. Do we want Flagler Beach to remain one of the few unique, independent seaside towns in Florida, where every citizen has a right to speak out a city commission meetings. . . and where WE are in control of our vital services? Or shall we just blend in with the county and state and stop trying to be so darned wonderful?

  8. Retired Jax Firefighter says:

    I’m glad our city commissioner refers to the men and women who risk their lives everyday as “the boys in the club”. Commissioner Carney you should be ashamed of yourself! Weren’t those “boys in the club” the first ones to show up when YOUR buisness caught on fire at the Eagles Nest?? I know who I’m NOT voting for when re election comes.

  9. RG says:

    This is ,

    Flagler Beach Fire Department
    Proudly serving you since 1926
    In 2012, the Flagler Beach Fire Department answered 1,140 calls for service.

    Welcome to the Flagler Beach Fire Rescue Department! Here you will find the latest information about our agency and community. Featuring the latest local news, weather and inner agency events, will keep you up-to-date with whats going on in your community.

    The City of Flagler Beach is served by a full-time professional staff on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide immediate response 365 days a year. There is no charge to residents for fire calls and emergency medical services. For emergencies call 911.

    Arrangements can be made for group tours of the fire station. Firefighters are regularly in the schools educating children in fire prevention and safety practices.

    We strive to bring the citizens and visitors of Flagler Beach the best Fire Protection and Emergency Medical Services available. This is consistently accomplished through our pursuit of up to date education and training. We are confident that the many services we provide are nothing short of superior.

    Flagler Beach has a population of roughly 5,500 year round residents. We respond to approximately 1,000 calls a year.

    Flagler Beach firefighters work around the clock manning the following apparatus:

    – 2 Engines
    – 1 Tower
    – 1 Attack Truck
    – 1 Brush Truck
    – 1 Fire Police Van
    – 1 ATV
    – 2 Boats
    – 1 Jet Ski
    – 1 Command Unit

    -2 Bicycles

    What you think?

  10. RG says:

    Fire Rescue

    Fire Rescue Mission / Vision Dept. Goals Dept. Values Training
    EMS EMS – FAQ Operations Special Operations

    The Fire Rescue Division is comprised of 80 budgeted positions and a budget of 8 million dollars. The fire rescue division supplies the general fund with revenue of 2 million dollars annually for EMS collections. Fire Rescue is responsible for the protection of life and property of the residents and visitors of Flagler County.

    Flagler County Fire Rescue provides structural fire protection. Wild land fire fighting, specialty rescue such as confined space rescue, trench rescue, elevated rope rescue, vehicle and machinery extrication, building collapse rescue and water rescue to the residents of Flagler County. The Fire Rescue Division provides advanced life support paramedical services to the entire county spanning more the 485 square miles.

    The Fire Rescue Division has a fleet of 44 vehicles for providing fire and EMS services. There are 9 fire engines, 10 medical transport units, 6 woods trucks, 6 attack trucks, 3 water tenders, 5 staff vehicles and 5 specialty vehicles.

    The Fire Rescue Division is also held accountable to certain industry standards. A few of the industry standards are from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Association (EPA), National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) local, State and Federal Administrative codes, State statutes and laws and the Insurance Services Organization (ISO). The above organizations require the type of equipment we should have on hand, the type of training we are to provide, how we operate on emergency scenes, and the manpower we should have on.

    What do you want now.

  11. Tidalwave says:

    Get information in writing from the county! Why in the world woudl anyone rely on verbal information? DUHHHHHHHHHH

  12. there are three sides to every story says:

    What’s the problem here? …your fire dept is staffed with a bunch of drunks and “pals” and want-to-be
    real professionals…drinking beer and going to put out fires is not the same as being a professional fire-fighter…LET IT GO……let the county do it ! save a bunch of money and get over it…..

  13. Rick Belhumeur says:

    Tidalwave – there is some written information from the County. Kim Carney is seeking updated written information from the County. Then educated assessments can be made. The fire department is turning into a money pit. It’s going to cost the City a fortune to bring the Department up to 21st century standards. If nothing else, the County should help support our fire rescue at the beach. The COUNTY recieves extraordinary amounts of revenue because people come to Flagler Beach. The City doesn’t get it back from the County in proportion and should help this City provide ALL PROTECTION at the beach.

  14. I do says:

    Pawn—-puppet—–master manipulator

    If it sounds too good to be true–it probably is

  15. tax payer says:

    firefighter Bobby Pace was suspended three days without pay after falsifying the records of the hours worked by a person assigned to perform community service by the court. The Flagler Beach Police Department filed a felony charge of tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice against Pace. The state attorney has yet to decide whether to formalize the charges or dismiss them. Pace remains on the job???????????????? but they fire a firefighter that has given 2 decades of service for having a sip of liquor on a holiday in the parking lot.??? PACE has caused the person on community service to be locked up behind bars in jail for 2 years…and he is still acting Chief??,, what’s wrong here?? Then Shupe is aloud to spearhead a no merge stand from his commissioner chair while he is clearly smack dab in a conflict of interest. Get the facts out and let people see for themselves that they get a hands down better service with a merge. And your only $25 a yr to each taxpayer go tell that to the teachers that are in risk of loosing there jobs in Flagler and the possible cuts in transportation to our kids ,and cuts in classes. yea lets pay the extra tax so Shupe can keep his big boy hobby at the boys club,, I don’t think so.

  16. FB Insider says:

    Why on earth would we want to pay taxes to employ inexperienced young firefighters who are wasting our taxpaer dollars doing this:

    That pic was found on FF/PM Dusty Snyder’s Facebook page as his profile (uploaded /21/13). Being the “FB Insider”, I can personally tell you that is the west wall of the FBFD training room. Don’t believe me? Stop in the public building and see for yourself. Oh, and while your there take note of the shirt color of the “horse” and what the guys on duty are wearing.

    Taxpayers are paying for these individuals to be ready at a moments notice to answer calls. The fact that these individuals are engaging in horseplay and not in proper uniform during work is concerning to me. Their using city property (tables) as props and what happens if one of them gets hurt during horseplay? Who then, answers emergency calls?

  17. Knowsthefacts says:

    I don’t know about you folks, but in reference to fbinsider’s post, I’d much rather have someone posing for a picture in a silly horse mask on Facebook than using city property for a stunt they think is funny on YouTube for the world to see. Especially when it’s a 19 year Asst Chief who is supposedly a “professional.” Sure seems like there is a much higher risk for injury with this stunt.

    Don’t know about you folks, but I’m glad those guys are gone from our lil fire dept.

  18. Just Sayin' says:

    FB Insider…that is truly a funny picture…it should be posted next to the picture of two former FBFD employees playing XBOX all night (and not resting for the next emergency) and wandering around the station in their pajama pants…or maybe next to the picture of those same two people BUYING ALCOHOL ON DUTY ON CITY PROPERTY…
    The firehouse is known for this kind of stuff…
    I am sure there is a list of things YOU did (besides buy moonshine while on duty) while employed there you wouldnt want to see aired on FlaglerLive. Show some class…you are only bringing every agency involved down

    • Jake Bissonnette says:

      “Just Sayin'”,

      Today I was made aware that there were comments on here directed towards myself and/or former partner. Let me set the record straight. If I have something to say, I will say it. I am not hiding from anything or anyone. I told the truth throughout everything and never once lied. The day I was terminated I put the FBFD in my rear view mirror. Based on your allegations, I can only assume you are a current member and do not wish to publicly put your name on here; that’s fine. I don’t have anything to say to you, or to anyone at the department. I served the City of Flagler Beach for 6 years and my spotless record reflects such. I do not have anything to prove, nor do I need to get on a website hiding behind a name bashing an agency that quite honestly doesn’t affect me either way now. I am over everything that happened. It was a lapse in judgement, and while it did not endanger anyone, I do regret it. I have learned to let it go and move on, I wish you and your agency the best in doing so as well.


  19. Shane Wood says:

    Well here is what I have to say:
    I am NOT FBInsider. You can have FlaglerLive check my IP Address against their’s to verify. Since I walked out of City Hall on March 24th, I have not spoke about the Fire Department to anyone. I could care less what is happening up there. That place is history and past employer as far as I’m concerned. Any thing I would say will go through my attorney. So I would appreciate if people would not use my name or post things about me as I am extending the same courtesy to you. As for playing XBox and wearing pajama pants, I will admit to that. After business hours and as long as all station duties were completed, we were on our time. Hell the “Acting” Chief now couldn’t wait for 5 o’clock or weekends or holidays so he didn’t have to be up front and available to the public. So after hours if I wanted to go in my room and play XBox, what’s the problem? If someone needed something, I was always available to go help them with what they needed. I guess you could show people if you had it, but the “Acting” Chief and his cronies erased all the video prior to February 14th. What did they have to hide??? Maybe people who have things to hide feel the need to use alias’ because they are to scared to use their real name…

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