Bluffs Okays Millage, Budget, Awaits Report on Fire Department
by Leo Coughlin
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - The City Commission Monday night set the millage rate and adopted the budget for fiscal year 2008 in the final budget hearing.
The millage rate will be 3.999, more than five percent lower than the roll back rate, which is 4.2135 mills.
The roll back rate is the millage rate needed to raise an amount of money equal to what was raised in the previous year.
Total budget for the new year will be $3,582,042.
Still awaited in the city is the report of an investigation by the Sheriff's Office of the fire department which was triggered by the firing of the chief, Karry Bell, a Largo employee.
Belleair Bluffs has an agreement with Largo in which Largo handles the administration of the department.
Bell was said to have made an improper remark to Lt. Chuck Barlet of the Bluffs department. Bell maintains he said, "Grieve me," challenging Barlet to file a union grievance.
But in typical fashion, the Largo high command, which obviously does not want Bell around, fired him.
He filed for a hearing this week with the Largo Personnel Advisory Board to air his contention that he was fired unwarrantedly. Bell reportedly was not interested in succeeding to the chief's job. He was appointed as acting chief on the firing of Jeff Bullock, who left under questionable circumstances.
In the byzantine world of Largo politics and city hall infighting, friendship and buddy-buddy stuff counts for more than anything else and nepotism and cronyism rule.
Bell was a 29-year city employee, but dumping old hands is de rigeur in Largo witness Brenda Francisco. There is also the hangover left from the whimsical rule of the former city manager which often took on an Alice in Wonderland aspect.
Bell said he is seeking the hearing before the Personnel Advisory Board to "clear his name."
When the blow-up occurred late last month, Mayor Chris Arbutine of Belleair Bluffs went to bat for Bell, asking that he not be fired.
And Commissioner Dave Shimkus was severely critical of Barlet who has gained a reputation as a troublemaker over past years.
It was Bell who asked for the internal investigation that resulted in his discharge. Henry Schubert, assistant city manager, did the dirty work, taking the word of five subordinates over the man in charge of the department.
Although the Personnel Board can't reverse the Schubert decision, it can make a recommendation to City Manager Mac Craig to make a different disposition - a less severe punishment or reinstatement.
Leading up to Bell's incident with Barlet was a flood of grievances filed in Belleair Bluffs. And this is what drew the strong comments from Shimkus who called for Barlet's firing.
"Lieutenant Barlet clearly and deliberately lied to a reporter while he was in uniform about the status of grievances, the union contract and attacked our city clerk," Shimkus said.
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