Thursday, December 14, 2017
Politics

East Lake Fire Rescue makes staffing moves after racial allegations

EAST LAKE — East Lake Fire Rescue stripped one lieutenant of his rank and reinstated another in an effort to address allegations of racial harassment and fend off looming arbitration.

The decisions are the department's latest attempt to regain footing after its leaders have accused each other of inappropriate texts, racial harassment and mismanagement.

The East Lake Fire Commission, the elected board that oversees the department, decided Tuesday to reverse an April decision to demote Bill Figueredo from lieutenant to driver and drop his pay $5,000 after he was accused of giving a Nazi salute and using a Jewish slur. He denies both accusations.

The move to reinstate Figueredo helps the department avoid arbitration that could have cost $10,000 or more, according to department attorney Andy Salzman.

Also, last week the department demoted James Finley, one of Figueredo's accusers, from lieutenant to driver after an investigation found that several other firefighters accused him of racist and sexist text messages and harassing language.

The messages include a picture of a black man popping out of a brown box that said, "Thanks for the gift, but I am sending it back it won't f- - - - - - work." Another shows a naked woman with her hair in a towel that says, "Not all towel heads are bad!!"

Finley denied sending the texts and said he tried to put a stop to racist language when it occurred on his shift, according to the department's investigation.

It's unclear whether Finley will appeal the demotion, but doing so could drag the department into yet another taxpayer-funded legal battle.

East Lake Fire Rescue, which employs 40 people and operates on a $4.2 million budget, has been involved in several legal disputes in recent years and has spent more than $1 million in legal fees and payouts to former employees, who have signed nondisclosure agreements that banned them from talking to the media.

The department's current saga began more than a month ago after Mark Weinkrantz, who chairs the Fire Commission, accused Figueredo of giving a Nazi salute and wrote a scathing letter asking fire Chief Tom Jamison to investigate the matter.

The investigation resulted in no evidence Figueredo did anything wrong, but Jamison recommended a demotion anyway and the commission acquiesced.

Figueredo, a Cuban-American and the department's only minority, told commissioners during a public hearing that Weinkrantz and Finley targeted him because they were racist.

He said Weinkrantz threatened to get him fired and told him he should be washing dishes and mowing lawns rather than fighting fires.

In an attempt to discredit his accusers, Figueredo showed commissioners Finley's texts and a pair of pink 8-pound weights he said Weinkrantz delivered to the fire station, calling him a derogatory name for homosexuals.

Weinkrantz said he did not make a homosexual slur but bought the dumbbells on sale and meant the gesture as a gift.

Michael Stephens, Figueredo's attorney, said he filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights, which is investigating whether Weinkrantz and Finley acted improperly.

Stephens said he appreciates the commission's decision to reinstate Figueredo, but he doesn't believe it will undo the damage the department has caused by allowing things to get this far.

"At the end of the day, this still isn't a resolved issue; my client is still in a hostile work environment," he said. "He still has to report to that exact same leadership chain that discriminated against him in the first place and perpetuated that discrimination."

Comments
Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Senate race motivated Alabama’s white, black evangelical voters in different ways

Nationally, the word "evangelical" has become in recent years nearly synonymous with "conservative Republican" and Alabama is one of the most evangelical states in the country. But in Alabama, there is a difference: black Christians.While in many par...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith named to fill Franken seat

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Wednesday to fill fellow Democrat Al Franken’s Senate seat until a special election in November, setting up his longtime and trusted adviser for a potentially bruising 2018...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Elections chief: Automatic recount unlikely in Alabama race

Elections chief: Automatic recount unlikely in Alabama race

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Still-uncounted ballots are unlikely to change the outcome of the U.S. Senate race in Alabama enough to spur an automatic recount, the state’s election chief said Wednesday as Democratic victor Doug Jones urged Republican Roy Moore...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Democrats jubilant, and newly confident about 2018, as Alabama delivers win on Trump’s turf

Democrats jubilant, and newly confident about 2018, as Alabama delivers win on Trump’s turf

The Democrats’ seismic victory Tuesday in the unlikely political battleground of Alabama brought jubilation — and a sudden a rush of confidence — to a party that has been struggling to gain its footing since Donald Trump won the presidency 13 months ...
Published: 12/13/17
Tax package would lower top tax rate for wealthy Americans

Tax package would lower top tax rate for wealthy Americans

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans on Tuesday rushed toward a deal on a massive tax package that would reduce the top tax rate for wealthy Americans to 37 percent and slash the corporate rate to a level slightly higher than what businesses and co...
Published: 12/12/17
Trump signs $700 billion military budget into law

Trump signs $700 billion military budget into law

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed into law a sweeping defense policy bill that authorizes a $700 billion budget for the military, including additional spending on missile defense programs to counter North Korea’s growing nuclear w...
Published: 12/12/17
Donald Trump Jr. demands inquiry of House Intelligence Committee leak

Donald Trump Jr. demands inquiry of House Intelligence Committee leak

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, has asked the House Intelligence Committee to open an investigation into leaked information related to his closed interview with the committee last week."To maintain the credibility of the in...
Published: 12/12/17
Original Watergate lock that burglars picked open is going to auction

Original Watergate lock that burglars picked open is going to auction

WASHINGTON -— It’s the lock that launched a two-year investigation and took down a president. And now more than four decades later — and for a starting bid of $50,000 — it can be a really wonky conversation piece.Nate D. Sanders Auctions will auction...
Published: 12/12/17
Democrats say Trump’s tweets about Gillibrand sexist, unsavory

Democrats say Trump’s tweets about Gillibrand sexist, unsavory

WASHINGTON — Plowing into the sexual harassment debate in a big way, President Donald Trump laced into Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday, tweeting that the New York Democrat would come to his office "begging" for campaign contributions and "do anyth...
Published: 12/12/17
Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — National political leaders, a Hollywood actress and a retired basketball star made last-ditch efforts to woo voters in the Alabama Senate race Monday, as the candidates gave their final arguments in a pivotal special election that ...
Published: 12/12/17