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Spring Hill fire board learns fundraising complaints fall outside its authority

SPRING HILL — The Spring Hill fire board has been told there is little it can do to control professional fundraisers who are soliciting donations for the district's firefighters union.

Fire district attorney Andrew Salzman told commissioners at their meeting Wednesday night that complaints about New Port Richey telemarketer Bay Area Council Inc. are a matter for state regulators who oversee such organizations.

The group solicits money on behalf of charities run by firefighters in Pasco, Hernando and other counties.

"We have no control over what the union does," Salzman told the board. The union's fundraising methods, he said, "is done at their peril" and are outside the purview of the district's leaders.

On Salzman's suggestion, the board voted to have him to draft a letter instructing the union to include a disclaimer on all future correspondence that it was not directly affiliated with the district. The board also asked Fire Chief Mike Rampino to sign the letter as well.

The matter came before the board in response to a complaint made recently by Ronald Wegner of Hudson, who said his 94-year-old mother, a resident of a Spring Hill assisted living facility, had received an invoice in March from the Spring Hill Association of Firefighters & Paramedics that resembled a bill.

Wegner told commissioners that he felt such tactics were meant to trick the elderly into sending money.

"I'm not a fan of dishonesty," said Wegner, who roundly criticized union president Scott Edmiston's earlier remarks that using an outside group to solicit donations was more fruitful than doing it themselves.

Although the Florida Division of Corporations indicates that the not-for-profit Bay Area Council has been incorporated since 1998, the company is now listed as inactive on the agency's Web site. According to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the company has been under investigation since September.

Commissioner Rob Giammarco said he was more concerned about the public's perception that the district somehow endorsed such fundraising efforts.

"This is very, very serious," Giammarco said. "It's our reputation, responsibility and accountability, not theirs."

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

Spring Hill fire board learns fundraising complaints fall outside its authority 12/10/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 10, 2009 8:11pm]
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