Bluffs Voters Support by a Huge Margin Choice for Outside Fire Service
By Leo Coughlin
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - Voters overwhelming backed, by 82.6 percent to 17.4 percent, the City Commission's desire to contract with an outside party for fire services in a vote counted Tuesday.
Largo is the fire department that will be contracted with. That is a 99 percent certainty.
Voting in this referendum was done by mailed ballots. Some 1,819 were mailed out and 627 votes were counted, which means a shade more than 34 percent voted.
Talk in town Tuesday night after the results were in was that folks talked about the issue and when it was clear that most were voting for it many others didn't bother.
Mayor Chris Arbutine, whose veteran and steady hand has guided the city government for years, was very happy with the result.
"I think the people trusted us on this move," he said, and that comment incorporated a lot more than just the issue of contracting outside for fire services.
Along the way, Arbutine had to fire Pat Competelli, the fire chief, but that action didn't find any sympathy in opposition to the referendum.
Competelli greatly overstepped his bounds by meeting secretly with Belleair officials in an attempt to overturn their agreement with Largo for fire services.
Making that stupid and fruitless trip to Belleair with Competelli were Suzy Sofer, a member of the Bluffs City Commission, and, astoundingly, her father, a member of the Belleair Beach City Council.
Suzy Sofer's unauthorized visit with the Belleair folks has been written off to her naivety and inexperience (she was just elected in March), but observers are still shaking their heads over what Stan Sofer, her father did.
In the imbroglio over fire service doings another chief fell by the wayside. Madeira Beach's chief got into the act, communicating with Belleair Bluffs residents with some sort of scheme.
Arbutine was having none of that and wrote to the Madeira Beach city manager who instantly fired his fire chief.
For some wacky reason, some fire fighting people think what they do overrides the responsibilities of elected officials in a manifestation of a scary lack of knowledge of how government works.
The radical change in fire service arrangements locally goes back to Belleair opting to contract with Largo, ending its agreement with Belleair Bluffs. This made it financially untenable for Bluffs to maintain its fire department.
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