BELLEAIR BLUFFS — This city's fire chief could be fired tonight after the mayor suspended him and escorted him off city property with the help of two sheriff's deputies.
At issue is a memo fire Chief Patrick Competelli wrote Monday to the mayor, council members and city clerk objecting, among other things, to a proposed takeover of the Belleair Bluffs Fire Department by Largo. The memo was a sharp about-face from Competelli's previous stance supporting the proposal.
"It's indefensible. It shows indecisiveness. It shows a lack of leadership," Mayor Chris Arbutine said of the memo.
Arbutine said he and Competelli have had their differences since the chief was hired a little more than a year go. At one point, Arbutine said, the chief threw a pen at him during a council meeting and had to be escorted out by a deputy.
Competelli referred a reporter to his attorney, Ryan Barack, who said his client has not overstepped any boundaries and should not lose his job.
Arbutine said he was willing to overlook their differences, especially considering the support Competelli gave to a proposal for Belleair Bluffs to dissolve its Fire Department and have Largo provide fire and EMS services. Belleair Bluffs, the mayor said, simply cannot afford to pay for its own department.
Competelli even made a speech during a June 30 council meeting in support of the proposal, which will go before voters Sept. 1.
"It is my belief that the citizens of Belleair Bluffs should vote to allow Largo Fire Rescue to provide fire and EMS services," Competelli said then. "I stand strong in my recommendation to move forward with this venture."
But in Monday's memo, Competelli took the opposite view. He cited concerns about increased response times if Largo took over and recommended the department be continued for another year because the city has "sufficient reserves to continue the fire department until we can make a correct, timely and safe decision."
The council is scheduled to decide whether to fire Competelli during a special meeting at 6 tonight.