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Fire Board edges toward reprimanding its gadfly member

SPRING HILL — It began pretty much the minute Rob Giammarco became a commissioner on the Spring Hill Fire Board in 2007.

The dissection of every proposed project. The conservative attitude toward spending. The lone dissenting votes.

Giammarco said Tuesday he's gotten used to being the odd man out on the five-member volunteer board. He's learned to overlook the rolling of eyes and audible sighs from the audience whenever he speaks.

And when it comes to the board voting today on whether the number of e-mails he sends to district Chief Mike Rampino is grounds for discipline against him, he said he knows he'll be once again outnumbered by his colleagues.

Giammarco said he's fine with all of that. It comes with the territory of being a watchdog looking out for the taxpayer's interest.

What the 59-year-old fire commissioner doesn't understand is how simply doing his job created a backlash so intense it has even sparked a criminal inquiry by a fellow board member.

"When you look at things like this you realize why (the board) has lost the trust of the people," Giammarco said. "To me, it sends a message that the board is incompetent."

Fellow Commissioner Leo Jacobs said that while he agrees that gathering information is a good idea, he believes that Giammarco frequently oversteps his boundaries as a commissioner.

"You can't nitpick on the board," Jacobs said. "We hired (Rampino) because we believed he could do the job, and he's shown that he can do that. It's not our job to be looking over his shoulder every minute of the day."

Jacobs said that while he has no personal animosity toward Giammarco, he supports the idea of a verbal reprimand. "I think it would send a message that his way isn't the only way," he said.

The latest round in the ongoing controversy stems from the April 14 board meeting when recently appointed commissioner Ben Edwards accused Giammarco of undermining Rampino by flooding him with e-mails requesting information on financial and administrative matters. The notion, he said, made it seem as though the chief was being second-guessed.

"I can't stand by here and see the chief getting badgered," said Edwards, who then asked fellow commissioners to consider issuing Giammarco a verbal reprimand.

A few days later, Giammarco fired off an e-mail to his fellow commissioners chastising them for their comments about him at the meeting, and asking them to apologize. He advised them to "tread carefully" as they pursued any decision to sanction him.

Board Chairwoman Amy Brosnan saw the e-mail differently, and construed Giammarco's words as threats. She put a call into the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, telling them that Giammarco's e-mail made her fear for her safety.

"His other e-mails in the past that are public record are demanding, accusatory and this one is just plain scary," Brosnan wrote in her statement to the Sheriff's Office, which ultimately found the Giammarco had committed no criminal violation.

Giammarco insists it's never been his intent to purposely make waves either with the district administration or his fellow commissioners. He prefers communicating with Rampino via e-mail for exactly the opposite reasons cited by his critics — it's less intrusive.

"I'm not phoning the chief three or four times a day like other commissioners," Giammarco said. "We are elected representatives of the district, and that requires us to get information to make an informed decision. "If others find fault with that, then fine. I will do what I feel is necessary."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

Fire Board edges toward reprimanding its gadfly member 05/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 9:00pm]

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