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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Madeira Beach fire chief to resign today, e-mail says

19

August

MADEIRA BEACH -- By the end of business today, this beach community could be without a fire chief.

Chief Derryl O'Neal sent the Madeira Beach city manager an e-mail Tuesday afternoon indicating he intends to resign today. Neither O'Neal nor City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. would comment Tuesday evening, but the trouble seems to stem from the dispute over fire service in Belleair Bluffs where fire Chief Patrick Competelli was canned earlier this month.

Competelli and a Belleair Bluffs council member met secretly with Belleair officials to talk about fire service. Belleair had contracted with Belleair Bluffs for fire service but has recently contracted with Largo. Competelli also wrote an e-mail objecting to the potential dissolution of the Belleair Bluffs department and the subsequent delivery of fire service by Largo.

How does that affect O'Neal?

Well, O'Neal wrote an e-mail which is featured on the Web site www.savebluffsfire.com that purports to be a coalition of Belleair Bluffs citizens who want to defeat the Sept. 1 referendum that would enable Belleair Bluffs to contract with Largo.

O'Neal's e-mail can be found on that Web site by clicking on "the options" at the right side of the home page. His two-paragraph e-mail, dated Aug. 17, is entitled "There Is a Viable Option."

In it, O'Neal describes a potential coalition of beach fire departments:

"The 'Beach Fire Departments' have been meeting and we think that there is a way to operate more effectively and efficiently without our communities losing the city's identity or their control over emergency services. I think there are options to be explored. Our process and analysis are in the early stages of development, but with the approval of my city manager, I would welcome an opportunity to speak with your team.

"In brief, our group is looking to share resources (i.e. personnel, apparatus, job functions, etc.) to reduce overtime and duplication of services. This would be an immediate action to reduce our expenses. Next would be the development of a new organizational structure with a merging of job functions where individuals would perform their tasks throughout the area (i.e. fire marshal, EMS coordinators, training officers, etc.). The final step would be to develop a Public Safety Improvement District where the new organizational structure would have a single fire chief and the cost would be equalized across the area. A controlling board would be made up of individuals selected by the municipalities. This would equate to the most effective and efficient operation while allowing the communities to maintain control of their cost, level of service and autonomy. After all, we live in smaller communities because we don't want to be controlled by the larger cities or the county."

Apparently Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine was not amused. He wrote Higginbotham a letter on Aug. 18 objecting to O'Neal's activities:

"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 or the appropriate City Hall staff."

Higginbotham met with O'Neal around lunch time Tuesday. And, at 3:06 p.m., O'Neal sent Higginbotham the following e-mail:

"I will have my resignation letter to you by tomorrow morning. I still don't see anything in my e-mail ... that was negative or that we hadn't discussed prior. At any rate, I'll have my paperwork to you in the morning."

Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer

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[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:04pm]

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