Mayors of four North Pinellas cities are talking about sharing resources, and at least one of the topics they've broached is provocative.
The mayors of Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, Safety Harbor and Oldsmar have met twice so far. And Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold said the group discussed the possibility of placing their fire departments under one leadership team.
Each department would remain intact, he said, but possibly with a single chief and fire marshal.
"There is a potential for putting our forces together and sharing some of our upper management," Steingold said.
The other mayors shared their impressions of the meetings with the St. Petersburg Times, but were reluctant to comment much about that controversial fire department topic.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers emphasized that there was no interest in doing away with his city's fire department and that it would be premature to comment on the subject.
"I certainly wouldn't be comfortable exploring that unless our entire commission said, 'Let's explore that,' " he said.
Tarpon Springs Mayor David Archie said discussions were preliminary at best. The issues are "too numerous and complicated" to say the group had any serious discussions on the topic, he said.
And Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker avoided the subject entirely.
He and the other mayors stressed that their conversations were in their infancy and that they were just lone members of elected boards.
"We don't want to step on our fellow commissioners' or council members' toes," said Ronecker, who told fellow leaders about the talks at Tuesday's Oldsmar City Council meeting.
The mayors got together in September and October, both times in Oldsmar — the first time at Panera Bread, the second time at Daddy's Grill, Ronecker said. They asked their city managers to join them at the second meeting.
"We were very careful to say we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves," Eggers said. "We're just one person on each of our commissions."
Elected city leaders on the same board, such as two city commissioners, generally can't get together and talk about city business without public notice. That would be a violation of the state's Sunshine Law. But the mayors aren't breaking the law because they cannot make binding decisions together.
The city leaders also talked about the possibility of working together to create a medical clinic for their employees, similar to the one Clearwater started in May 2010.
"You'd have a healthier workforce and the potential for reducing the cost of health care is great," Steingold said.
Since last year, Dunedin has been exploring partnering with Clearwater to provide a clinic for its employees, Eggers said.
The Times recently reported that the city managers of the four cities were talking about a potential recreation partnership. They would, for example, honor one another's resident rates for certain recreational facilities and classes. The mayors said that idea developed from their meetings and would expand on the partnership adopted by Safety Harbor and Oldsmar in 2008.
The north county city leaders plan to meet again in January.
All of the mayors said that ultimately, they're trying to join forces to save the cities and taxpayers money. They're also exploring their common ground, with the realization they have more power as a group than alone.
The population of each of the four cities ranges from just under 13,600 residents to just over 35,000. But together, they represent nearly 90,000 people.
"We all have some common interests, being somewhat smaller cities in Pinellas County," Archie said. "Sometimes we get left out of the big picture."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.