Lehigh Acres Fire Chief Don Adams defended his use of department computers after he was criticized last week by Cathy Kruse, of Lehigh Acres, who alleged that after paying several hundred dollars for materials from the department, the chief was doing personal business work while on duty and that the chief was visiting inappropriate sites on the Internet.
Kruse is running to fill Seat 1 on the fire board commission. The election is in November.
Her husband and her son have been employees of the fire department; the latter still an employee. For the past four years, she has been critical of the chief's leadership.
The board was prepared to consider an assessment of the job performance on Chief Adams on June 27 when the board met at 6 p.m. at the fire station on 16th Street off of Sunshine Boulevard. It was the first order of business on the agenda. The evaluation of the chief was tabled by a unanimous vote on the board.
The chief told the board that computers at the stations are used by all the personnel and the Internet is readily assessable and that his own computer is accessible to others when he is away from his office.
Adams responded to accusations by saying that he is a man of faith.
"I know there are several people who would like to see me fall. They have a vendetta against me," Adams said.
Later, Commission Member Larry Becker gave the chief a vote of confidence at the end of the meeting.
The board appointed Fire Marshal Mike Bennett however to check the histories of visited sites of all the computers at the stations and report back to the board with what he has found.
Robert Anderson, another resident of Lehigh, spoke at the public comments period and said he had a list of sites that were inappropriate from the chief's computer. Later in the evening, board member Larry Becker questioned Anderson's information and wondered how he got the material and how he would know what inappropriate sites were. Anderson, often a critic of the fire district's actions, said after the meeting that he got the information from someone inside the fire department.
The meeting drew more than 85 people and the main conference room where the district holds its meetings had to be segregated with many who attended because according to the fire marshal, the main room may only contain 49 people.
As visitors to the meeting came in, a firefighter directed them to a side room where spectators could not see the activities, but could barely hear some of the deliberations on a speaker in the room.
Two weeks ago it was first announced on The Lehigh Acres Citizen's website, Lehighacrescitizen.com, that a SAFER grant from the federal government had been granted to the fire district to the tune of $6.7 million. It would save jobs of more than 40 firefighters who would probably have had to be laid off because of a budget shortfall. The grant from FEMA runs for two years and if a firefighter leaves, his position under the grant must be filled.
All that was left to get the grant was for the board of commissioners to vote to accept the grant. For some reason, not explained, many firefighters in the audience had heard rumors that the board may not accept the grant.
After a brief discussion and information from the chief about the grant that the department has received a second time, the board voted unanimously to accept the latest grant. The 80-plus people, made up mainly of young firefighters, many with their families, applauded, not once, but twice, when the final vote became official.
As for dealing with complaints from two people, the board also decided to ask them to provide their grievances in writing and present them to the board.
Board member Don Adams, no relation to the chief, said he had problems with the complaints.
"I want those complaints on paper in black and white. I want to know both sides of an issue before I decide anything," he said. "I want to see those who make accusations to back them up. I want to know both sides."
Commissioners Larry Becker, Lynda Carter and Chairman Jeff Berndt agreed and asked Kruse to file an official complaint on paper and she said she would.
Meanwhile, the board also voted on dates for upcoming budget meetings which are open to the public. Those dates are July 10 at 4 p.m., July 24 at 4 p.m., Aug. 9 at 4 p.m. and Aug. 29, also at 4 p.m.