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East Lake fire chief levels verbal harassment complaint against commission chairman

EAST LAKE — East Lake's fire chief leveled a verbal harassment complaint against an East Lake Fire District commissioner this week.

He said the harassment occurred during a conversation about how military reserve members in the Fire Department should be paid when they're on active military duty.

"I have just been verbally abused by Chairman Tom McKone via cell phone," Fire Chief Jeff Malzone wrote in an e-mail to commissioners Tuesday. "I demand that this board take the proper course of action."

At a special session Friday, the board voted to investigate Malzone's claim. That could take up to 10 days, said the fire district's attorney, Andrew J. Salzman.

The East Lake Fire District is a special taxing district with a five-member elected commission. Taxes in the district pay for the Fire Department's operations, including the chief's $106,000 salary.

"The chief brought forward a formal complaint that something transpired in violation of the rules and his civil rights," said Commissioner Bill Cannon. "We are mandated to do something."

McKone didn't return a phone call for comment.

At its July meeting, the commission voted to increase the number of days that it pays military reservists while they're on active duty training. Federal law requires that civil service workers in the military be paid for 15 12-hour days. State law requires that they be paid for 17 12-hour days. East Lake upped the number to 24.

But in the federal law, there is a provision that says if reservists end up receiving — through their salary and their military pay — an amount higher than their regular pay while on active duty for training, they can be asked to pay back the difference to the federal government, Salzman said.

It's a rule that East Lake never adhered to until recently, when it attempted to have some money repaid by a firefighter who is a reservist.

In an attempt to clarify the matter last month, the board suspended the rule that increased the number of paid days and reverted back to its old policy of paying for 17 days. It decided not to try to collect any money from reservists.

Earlier this week, Malzone and McKone got into an exchange about the matter that led to a phone conversation and the harassment charge.

"I wish I knew why the chief is spending all this time and energy and legal fees to take benefits away from employees serving our Country," McKone wrote in an e-mail to commissioners earlier this week.

After Malzone sent the e-mail to commissioners claiming verbal harassment, McKone, who plans to run for the Florida House seat currently held by Peter Nehr, replied with his own e-mail to commissioners in which he said he believes Malzone's "performance seems to be falling rapidly" and that the military leave problem had been dying down until Malzone reignited it.

"You (Malzone) need to move on from your thoughts that everyone is picking on you and concentrate on doing your job," McKone wrote in the e-mail. "If this advice is verbal abuse, then so be it. You should be running the department rather than trying to constantly get even with everyone and everything that is bothering you.

"Maybe you should explore the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) program to get a handle on your troubles," McKone wrote.

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

East Lake fire chief levels verbal harassment complaint against commission chairman 02/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2010 8:01pm]
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