Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Politics

East Lake Fire Commission narrows candidates for board to five

EAST LAKE — Five applicants are still in the running for a soon-to-be vacant seat on the East Lake Fire Commission.

The commission, which levies taxes and sets the budget and policy for East Lake Fire Rescue, must appoint someone to replace Commissioner Florence Galloway, who resigned to move closer to her family.

The person selected will serve out the rest of Galloway's term, until November 2014.

Commissioners are elected officials, but in the event of a resignation, they are required to appoint a replacement. They will select that person at their next board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The selected candidate will help the $4.2 million department overcome a budget shortfall of more than $400,000 and move past recent turmoil stemming from allegations of racial slurs and mismanagement.

Thirteen people applied for the position, but commissioners used a rating system to select the top five candidates. Nearly all of the five candidates who received interviews said in their applications they could help the department move past its troubles.

"What we want is the perfect blend of passion for the organization and knowledge of the business and organization," said Commissioner Paul Ferreri. "The passion is equally important, if not more important, than the knowledge."

The five contenders for Seat 4 are:

• J. Randy Burr, a manager at Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., where he helps lead a catastrophic injury claims team. He has been an East Lake resident for 17 years and volunteers at the department outreach programs, including the haunted house and Santa events held every Halloween and Christmas. He's also a certified basic life support instructor for the American Heart Association and volunteers on a monthly basis to teach CPR for East Lake Fire Rescue. He said in his application that the racism scandal was "an unfortunate distraction" and he will "aggressively defend any false accusations of mismanagement."

• Wayne Ferguson, a retired manager of contracts for an aerospace engineering firm. He previously served as a fire commissioner from 1980-88. Before that, he was a firefighter and paramedic in Ohio for 10 years, he said. Ferguson has lived in East Lake for 26 years and said he will work to retain good personnel by protecting firefighters' pay and benefits and he will "initiate and maintain measures that ensure equal treatment of all department personnel."

• John Hall, a business development manager at DIGI New Brunswick International, which provides scales, wrappers and slicers to grocery stores and other food service companies. He has 33 years of experience in supermarket management, is a former member of the East Lake Fire Department's pension board and was a volunteer firefighter in Pendleton, Ore. From attending fire commission meetings, he said he has an "understanding of the current status of the department and the issues currently being faced." He said he travels two to four weeks per month, but expects to soon have more control over his schedule and is available to attend meetings by Web camera, if necessary.

• Michael Peasley, a detective for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and a volunteer with the East Lake Fire Department, Relay for Life and Brooker Creek Elementary School. He's also writing a book about the cases he investigated, he said. Peasley thinks the department and commission should take regular classes on diversity and sensitivity. He doesn't have budget experience, he said, but he thinks he could learn.

• Lauralee Westine, a land-use lawyer with her own practice. She is a founding member of the Council of North County Neighborhoods and the Tarpon Woods Group. She said she follows local government closely and has listened to the last eight months of fire commission meetings online. She also has served on nonprofit boards with budgets that are bigger and smaller than East Lake Fire's, she said. "I was shocked that I was one of the only candidates who looked at the budget in depth," she said. "I didn't apply to run a fire department. I applied to set policy, put together a budget, watch tax dollars." Westine is the wife of Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 323-0353.

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