BELLEAIR BLUFFS — The fire chief of this town lost his job Wednesday at the end of a meeting peppered with accusations of conspiracy and complaints by citizens outraged because they were not allowed to speak.
It was clear that Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine had the necessary votes to oust fire Chief Patrick Competelli, but none of the council members would make the motion. Arbutine finally gave up the gavel and did it himself. The final vote was 3-2 with council members Jack Nazario and Hunt Brand siding with the mayor. Suzy Sofer and Joseph Barkley voted no.
"I'm disappointed. I feel like I did an excellent job while I was here," Competelli said.
The decision to fire Competelli came at the end of several months' strife over a proposal to disband the Belleair Bluffs Fire Department and have Largo take over. Competelli supported the proposal when it was first made in June, but on Monday he wrote a memo saying that the idea was bad and would endanger lives.
Arbutine saw that as a failure to carry out the wishes of the council, which were to prepare the department for the changeover should voters agree to disband it in a Sept. 1 referendum. But Competelli said he changed his stance in reaction to misinformation being given to the public and the mayor's attempts to make it difficult for the department to continue should the referendum fail.
Sofer had harsh words for the mayor, saying she would "not be part of any conspiracy to get rid of the Belleair Bluffs fire chief or the Belleair Bluffs Fire Department."
Competelli and Sofer were applauded, but audience members were angered when they were not allowed to talk, crying out such comments as "we ought to have a say-so" and "you call this a democracy?"