Another Uppity Chief Falls by the Wayside
By Leo Coughlin
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - Patrick Competelli was the fire chief here until he went beyond the scope of his job and was fired two weeks ago.
Derryl O'Neal, fire chief in Madeira Beach, went down the same ultra vires path and was fired last week.
O'Neal's dismissal by W.D. Higginbotham, Jr., Madeira Beach city manager, was triggered by a letter from Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine, whose town has been the storm center of both firings.
The action was very swift.
Arbutine sent a letter dated August 18 to Higginbotham that said, "I was informed by a resident last night that apparently Madeira Beach Fire Chief Derryl O'Neal has attempted to broker a deal to provide fire service to the City of Belleair Bluffs through individual residents and/or Commission members.
"I am extremely disappointed and disturbed that this information was not brought to my attention as Mayor of the appropriate City Hall staff."
Higginbotham's response was at lightning speed.
His letter to Arbutine, dated August 19, said -
"I understand your disappointment and frustration. The person who transmitted this information to your community acted on his own accord without any direction or authorization of the City.Competelli, in a similar development, approached officials in Belleair a couple of weeks in an attempt to undo that town's fire service contract with Largo and restore the ties to Belleair Bluffs.
Like O'Neal, Competelli acted without any authority.
Somehow or other, through some overblown idea of the nature of their jobs, both of the fire chiefs apparently thought they were entitled to act autonomously and ignore the function of government.
Competelli was aided and abetted by a member of the Belleair Bluffs City Commission, Suzy Sofer. She was newly elected in March and evidently has no idea of how government works.
What was mind blowing in that scene is that Sofer was accompanied by her father, Stan Sofer, a member of the Belleair Beach City Council, in the mission to Belleair.
Needless to say the visit to Belleair, cordially tolerated by the every polite Mayor Gary Katica and Town Manager Micah Maxwell, left the two Belleair officials agog and in wonderment about what was going on.
O'Neal wrote an e-mail to a web site put up by Belleair Bluffs residents who oppose the Bluffs plan to drop its own fire department and secure fire services from Largo. They oppose the September 1 referendum which would give the commission authority to contract outside the city for such service.
O'Neal went into a disquisition on the web site about how beach communities can "operate more effectively and efficiently" and that options ought to be explored.
He had a full-blown plan in detail that would, according to him, solve many of the current problems being discussed about fire service in the county.
Of course, his remarks were addressed to private citizens, by-passing all government figures at the municipal and county level.
Ballots for the Bluffs referendum went out two weeks ago. The count will be made next week. Approval is expected because otherwise Belleair Bluffs would be left stranded without any fire service (would not happen) or taxpayers would face a tripling of the millage rate to sustain the existing department.
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