Monday, March 8, 2010

Florida City Manager Battles Volunteers

The subject of this blog was a news story that was posted here: http://www.firefighternation.com/forum/topics/florida-volunteers-upset-over.

The focus of this story has always been on the volunteer fire department’s reaction to the ordinance, when in fact; it should have been on the city manager and her appetite for control.

A quick history lesson of Davenport, Florida city politics finds a community with money that sits just 10 miles from Walt Disney World. Now; I say “with money”, because they have a Commissioner-Manager form of government, 6 paid firefighters and 2 part-time firefighters that is headed by a “part time regular” Fire Administrator. Then, you have the City Manager running things. This is a position that, when it was created, took at least 17 months to fill by the city council. One can only speculate as to why it took so long. Yes; there is a mayor, but apparently, he just runs the meetings and cuts ribbons. Amy Arrington, the city manager rules the city.

Amy Arrington had not held a city manager’s position until Davenport, Florida. She had previously served as assistant city manager for Haines City, Florida. She was hired in Davenport as assistant city manager. When the city manager resigned, Arrington was named interim city manager at a salary of $65,000 a year. The previous city manager, Ryan Taylor, was making $66,950 when he left.

According to my notes, the city and Arrington entered into negotiations for her to take over as city manager, but could not agree on salary and benefits. Arrington showed her team spirit by demanding $76,000 a year in salary, 15 paid leave days and two weeks vacation. Demonstrating the art of compromise, she “settled” for $75,000 a year in salary, no paid leave days, but THREE weeks vacation. I would think that there would also be the standard insurance benefits, retirement, per diems, continuing education and car or car allowance benefits as well.

And, apparently, though she was officially hired on 12/3/07 to the city manager’s position, her start date was adjusted to 8/6/07. My guess is that this is the date when she took over as interim city manager, so there was almost four months of retro pay. Let’s call it a “signing bonus” of sorts.

What does this have to do with the volunteer fire department? PLENTY.


In Florida, county fire departments are common. Davenport, Florida was being serviced by a volunteer fire department and had for about 86 years. Then, after the hurricane season in 2004, the city hired six full time firefighters and supplemented them with the volunteers. I could find no acrimonious articles on any rifts between the full time and volunteer firefighters.

Then, Arrington was tasked with hiring a fire administrator for the purpose of bringing the full time and volunteer firefighters under one leader and resisting the advances of Polk County Fire Service, who had proposed in early 2009 to take over fire service for Davenport. Residents had made it clear that they wanted a local fire department

Arrington’s first hire lasted TWO, whole days. Hmmm; that’s a red flag.

On October 16, 2009, Arrington announced that she had hired Stuart McCutcheon as her “part time regular” fire administrator. His part time salary was set at $25,500 a year. McCutcheon finished work on an AAS degree in fire science on April 12, 2006 from Daytona Beach Community College. I did an exhaustive search and that is all I could find on him (However; I did find a press release from March 3, 2010 by the State of Florida Commission on Ethics that dismissed a charge against Stuart McCutcheon for “no legal sufficiency”).

So, with someone in place that Arrington could control, the wheels were in motion to gain control of the volunteers.

Many of the fire service websites have been discussing this fire department from the perspective that it is because of the ordinance requiring the volunteers to apply for the “auxiliary” positions under the new “regime” (http://theledger.com/article/20100121/NEWS/1215083).

But, in my opinion, it started months before when the volunteer chief, Don Pelt, was suspended on November 16, 2009 by Stuart McCutcheon, the newly minted fire administrator for responding to a medical call in Davenport. Note that the date is exactly one month after the fire administrator was hired. And consider too, that, the city council, by not voting a show of support for their chief, was showing support for the city manager and the fire administrator
(http://www.theledger.com/article/20091123/NEWS/911235073).

Then, city manager extraordinaire Amy Arrington was instructed by the council to get the matter with the fire department resolved, but the council was leaving it to Arrington to solve.

At the next city council meeting and over objections by the crowd that filled the chambers, the council passed on first reading the new ordinance. (http://www.theledger.com/article/20100126/NEWS/1265034). With the distinct possibility that the volunteer department was out of service, the mayor asked the city manager to meet with them, but Arrington made it very clear that she would, but that she supported the ordinance.

This led to the question by the mayor if Davenport could afford full time fire services. (http://www.theledger.com/article/20100209/news/2095017). If you look at savings in salaries alone, it amounted to approximately $190,000. I’d be curious to know what Polk County Fire Services quoted them for protection. Plus, because the salaries of the full time firefighters were much lower than surrounding departments, they could be easily lured away by higher pay. Without a volunteer department to supplement, you would be increasing the possibilities of overtime, hiring more full time or part time, longer response times, injuries and relying on mutual aid for coverage.

As I said from the beginning, this was never about fire service delivery, but rather, control; a controlling city manager who controls the city council, who controls the fire administrator, who now controls the much smaller fire department. (http://www.theledger.com/article/20100223/NEWS/2235073).

Don’t believe me? Here is a quote from the news article: “The purpose of the ordinance, they (Arrington/McCutcheon) have said, is to give the city full control of the department and a single chain of command with Arrington and McCutcheon at the top.

And THAT is where I have my biggest problem with the whole mess.

Can someone please explain to me how a city manager becomes the top of the ladder in a fire department, in broad daylight and in full view of a city council?

TCSS.

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1 comment:

  1. That was so sad seeing the victims of the broken bathtub.Hope they are okay now :(

    ReplyDelete

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