WMFR commissioner wants ‘no comment’
A suggestion by West Manatee Fire Rescue District Commissioner John Rigney to have public comments available only during public hearings was rejected at an April 15 meeting at Station 1 on Marina Drive.
The commissioners opposed the suggestion in a 3-2 vote, much to the liking of Holmes Beach Commissioner Al Robinson.
Afterward, Robinson, who said he was attending the meeting as a private citizen to voice his disapproval for WMFR’s salaries and overtime pay, shook hands with the three who opposed — Jesse Davis, Mike Mulyck and Larry Tyler — and told them, “You did the right thing.”
Rigney said he thinks public comments take up too much time. “I think we’ll have a more productive meeting if we don’t allow them anymore,” he said.
During the public comments session, Robinson said the commission had been dodging questions he e-mailed them about WMFR’s base pay, overtime hours and the ratio of supervisors to firefighters, which he said was 21-16.
Robinson said he was insulted that the commissioners dodged the majority of his questions.
In particular, Robinson wanted an explanation as to why, based on payroll information he received from WMFR administrative assistant Mary Stephens, up to 45 percent of the firefighters pay is for overtime. He also asked what educational requirements there are for firefighters with annual salaries for third-class fire fighters of $43,000-$47,000, $48,000-$56,500 for second class firefighters and $55,700-$66,301 for first-class firefighters.
“Teachers in the Manatee school district,” Robinson said in his e-mail, “who have bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees, average roughly $45,000 before benefits.”
In addition, he wrote in the e-mail, “I then looked at the overtime hours that I was given by Ms. Stephens and discovered that they were very different. Matter of fact, her numbers said that overtime hours were 3,595. I calculated 26,099. I would appreciate an explanation.”
Robinson said he didn’t get one.
He told commissioners at the April 15 meeting, “You take all kinds of time pinning awards on people, promoting people, giving fire trucks away, but you can’t talk to me about the economics of this $5 million business? This is not charity. This is a business you’re running.”
When the suggestion about removing public comments, or having them first approved by Chief Andy Price, came up, Davis was the first to oppose.
“I don’t like it,” Davis said. “I think the public has the right to talk and make comments. I don’t know any place that doesn’t do that. We start stifling people’s speech, and we’ll need to be careful what we’re doing.”
Commissioner Randy Cooper was in favor of Rigney’s suggestion.
Cooper said the commission should find out how other fire districts handle their public comment sections. “Let’s compare,” Cooper said.
The next meeting will be at 6 p.m., Thursday, May 20, at the WMFR Station No. 1, 6001 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach.