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New chairman hopes to bring civility to fire board

SPRING HILL — It's become, in at least one resident's view, "the best Wednesday night comedy show."

It could also pass for a drama, with emotions boiling and tempers flaring.

One thing that it hasn't been accused of lately is serious, representative government.

Welcome to the exciting world of the Spring Hill Fire Rescue board meetings, where flareups and personality clashes between the five board members — and often their constituents as well — can make for long, drawn-out meetings.

It's a trend that rookie board member Amy Brosnan hopes to change when she runs her first full meeting as chairwoman on Dec. 9.

"People expect us to work as a team," she said. "It's okay to have a different opinion, but there are constructive, peaceful ways to sort these things out. That's what we have to do from now on."

It would be a welcome change for many residents, including Bob Kanner, a former Spring Hill fire commissioner who served three years as chairman.

"It's embarrassing to watch sometimes," Kanner said. "They have a lot of work to do, and they're not getting it done. This is a district that operates on a very large budget. To the taxpayers, it's serious stuff."

The constant sniping, he said, is a result of people "who cannot agree to disagree."

At the most-recent meeting, on Nov. 11, the fireworks began almost immediately when outgoing chairman Leo Jacobs made a motion to elect new officers who would take their positions at the next meeting in December.

Jacobs got an earful from fellow commissioner Rob Giammarco, who complained that such a move would violate past board actions.

"Whenever we appointed a chairperson, that person took over immediately," Giammarco said. "We're not following protocol here."

A seething Jacobs shot back, "The board conducts this election, not an individual."

For the next few minutes fire department members and citizens watched in disbelief as the verbal smack-down between Giammarco and Jabobs continued.

More chaos ensued when Jacobs and the rest of the board voted for Giammarco to take over as chairman. Giammarco, however, refused, saying it would make him too much of a lightning rod.

Brosnan, who was next on the list, said she would be happy to serve as chairwoman. Her first official act was to call for a five-minute recess so the combatants could cool off.

By then, the meeting had gone on for nearly one hour — and the public's business had not been addressed.

That was hardly the first time that side issues distracted board members.

Last month, Jacobs spent several minutes trading jabs with Spring Hill resident Ken Fagan over his suggestion that it was time for Jacobs to step down as commission chairman. A few minutes later, another commissioner verbally assailed a resident who questioned whether a different board member was a legal resident of Spring Hill.

At another meeting Jacobs and Fagan nearly came to blows in a heated argument outside the board chambers.

Kanner blames at least part of the bad blood on lingering resentment over the district's bid for independence that left many in the community and the board divided on issues. Certain commissioners, he said, seem to enjoy antagonizing those who oppose their views.

Although he faced his share of critics during his tenure on the board, Kanner said he tried to avoid dialing up the rhetoric, and encouraged fellow board members to respect other opinions no matter how much they disagreed with them.

Doing so, he said, begins with having a chairman who is not afraid of using a gavel.

"You have to be a traffic cop," Kanner said. "Criticism is part of the process. You have to take control of the emotions and stay focused on business. Otherwise, it ends up being a complete free-for-all."

Brosnan agrees completely, saying that it has often seemed like too many people come to meetings to push personal agendas rather than trying to work toward solving the district's broader challenges. With the district facing more tough budget issues, board meetings will have to be more focused and productive, she said.

"The message I've heard from the citizens is clear," Brosnan said. "We need to start going forward."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

New chairman hopes to bring civility to fire board 12/01/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 8:33pm]
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