EAST LAKE — Mark Weinkrantz insists that he is simply trying to ensure that there is accountability in the Fire District. That's why he questioned the use of the taxing district's staff cars at a meeting last month.
But Fire Chief Jeff Malzone said Weinkrantz has gone too far. Malzone said he was told by a fire district commissioner that Weinkrantz followed him home. Concerned for the safety of his family, Malzone said he had no choice but to file a complaint with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
"It's the fact that I was told that he said I 'stayed there,' " Malzone said. "Was he (Weinkrantz) sitting outside my house? For the safety of my family, I had to do something. What if something happens, and I did nothing? We see that all the time."
But Weinkrantz, who is running for a seat on the district's Fire Commission, said he never told Commissioner Paul Ferreri that he went to the chief's house. Weinkrantz said he did follow a Fire Department staff vehicle last one day month. But he said he stopped once he saw the car going toward Tarpon Springs. The chief lives in Tarpon Springs.
"He's defaming me, debasing me to make me sound like some kind of stalker with a tin foil hat," Weinkrantz said. "All I'm asking for is accountability for the vehicles that the taxpayers support."
Ferreri said he spoke with Weinkrantz the morning after the April 27 commission meeting. Ferreri said he was told that Malzone left work about 1:30 p.m., went home and never returned. Ferreri then called and informed Malzone about the conversation.
"The chief got a little concerned about being followed, and I shared the concern," Ferreri said Tuesday. "I recommended that he call the district attorney and seek his advice and his advice was to file a complaint, which I support. The safety and the personal security of our staff should not be compromised."
In addition to filing with the Sheriff's Office, Malzone distributed a memo requiring that any sighting of Weinkrantz at fire stations be reported.
Malzone contacted the Sheriff's Office on April 28 and said that Weinkrantz was following him and other employees home from the station.
Weinkrantz questions why the district has no policy for tracking the use of fire district staff vehicles.
Weinkrantz told deputies that "he is looking into the department's accountability and while in the Landsbrook neighborhood, he has seen department vehicles where they should not be," the Sheriff's Office report said.
After investigating, the Sheriff's Office decided not to file criminal charges and the matter was closed.
Weinkrantz calls the harassment claim a pattern by the chief. In February, Malzone filed a harassment complaint against the commission's chairman, Tom McKone. After a brief investigation, the matter was squashed because of lack of merit.
"If he doesn't like you or what you are asking, he immediately goes to harassment," Weinkrantz said.
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)445-4174