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Fire board moving forward with chief applicant

May 29, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Members of the board of commissioners of the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District were expected this week to ask their consultant, Dr. Mary Ellen Dorsett, the chairman of the Iona Fire Dept. Board of Commissioners, to set up an interview for a candidate for the position of fire chief for the district.

Dorsett met with the full board in a public workshop last week and presented a comprehensive presentation about the hiring of a new fire chief, using Power Point.

She said that at least four men had applied for the position of fire chief, but only one qualified because he had a master's degree, which the board had asked for. She said he lives out of state but has lived in Florida and is familiar with Lehigh Acres. She told board members he has worked as fire chief under the municipal plan and under special districts plan such as those in Florida.

Article Photos

Members of the board of commissioners held a public workshop concerning the employment of a future fire chief of the Lehigh Acres Fire Dept. The members are from left to right, Linda Carter, David Adams, Larry Becker, Jackie Danis and Cathy Kruse. Board attorney Richard Pringle is at right.

She spoke of the "changing culture" facing the fire district and offered tips in interviewing without asking discriminatory questions.

On hand with the five commissioners was board attorney Richard Pringle.

She said that Interim Fire Chief John R. Wayne had not applied for the position. Wayne was named following the resignation of former chief Don Adams who left the department last November. Adams' salary at his departure was $133,000 a year.

The name of the applicant was expected to be announced at the regularly scheduled public meeting held Tuesday evening. Board Chairman Becker was expected to ask that an interview be set up with the applicant.

Dorsett said an interview can be set up with individual members of the board and/or of the entire board via the Internet using Skype. She said such use is common for interviews and it doesn't require that the person spend money to drive to Florida.

After the initial interview, she said a future interview can be done at a public meeting, also using Skype, with citizens of Lehigh who show up at the meeting able to ask questions.

Skype is a convenient way for Internet users to communicate with each other using web cams and microphones. She said the Skype session would be projected onto a large screen in the meeting room.

The board meets on the last Tuesday of the month starting at 6 p.m. at Station 104 on 16th Street off of Sunshine Blvd.

Consultant Dorsett was asked why more people had not applied and she said she had talked to some prospective applicants and they were concerned about the department and its history, which included actions of previous boards.

She also said that the board had agreed that the applicant must have a master's degree. Some of the applicants had only bachelor's degrees and thus did not pass through the screening process, she said.

"If you decide not to continue the process of hiring with the lone applicant, you can advertise again and note that you are interested in someone with a bachelor's degree or someone who has that degree and is working on a master's degree," she said. "But first, you must finish the process you have initially started."

Board Attorney Richard Pringle told members at the workshop that the bill containing an amendment regarding the changing of how special districts are funded passed in the Florida Legislature and was waiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature.

It would give the residents of the special districts a say in how they will fund their fire departments. At present, the Lehigh department is funded through ad valorem taxes and monies from emergency medical services and ambulance transports.

Pringle said the amendment would allow board members to call for a referendum in the 2014 election, asking local residents to choose between ad valorem taxes or an assessment fee. In the past, Chairman Becker has said that it is important that the community understand and become acquainted with the finances that are needed to operate the fire district.

The Great Recession has taken its toll on the department as it has on other agencies. When property values dropped, so did the amount of ad valorem taxes. Firefighters were laid off due to the lack of funding. Two federal grants over the past few years have provided enough money to rehire those firefighters, but that funding will run out.

At the workshop, Dorsett also said if the board did not want to continue the process in hiring of the lone applicant, it could decide to hire an interim chief to run the department until at which time, a full-time chief could be hired meeting demands set forth by the board. That process could continue for several months.

"The man who has applied comes with good qualifications. I think you should go through the process of interviewing him," she said.



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