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It's easy to see through Pasco firefighters' motivation

A year ago, unionized deputies in Pasco County voted no confidence in the ability of Sheriff Bob White to lead the department. It wasn't even close. The tally was 183-14.

Likewise, the union representing Pasco's firefighters endorsed White's opponents during the 2008 campaign. The members of the two unions must have swapped stories about the bosses when they picketed together along Little Road during the firefighters' contract negotiations.

Apparently, they have short memories. Now some of those same firefighters want White as their chief and believe the man — whose own employees professed to have no faith — should be the one commanding Pasco's fire/rescue operations.

This is rich. And incredibly transparent.

Firefighters want to hold on to a mediator-ordered 5 percent salary boost and be excluded from potential layoffs that are threatening other county departments. If job protection is a top priority, as stated, the union has the ability to delay the raises and be like the rest of the county government's employees who are entering their second budget year with no salary increases.

They need only to look one county to the north for motivation. Hernando's unionized deputies' okayed a new contract Wednesday night that includes a provision to give up increases for the 2009-10 budget year in an attempt to stave off job losses.

Instead, the firefighters' union leadership in Pasco cast a political ploy and the sheriff, regrettably, swallowed it. That the Sheriff's Office's contract lawyer, Richard Corcoran, already picked up the firefighters' endorsement for a 2010 state House of Representatives race is indicative of the cross-pollination at work here.

So, too, is the fact that Corcoran's and White's buddy, Sen. Mike Fasano, acknowledged he "heard rumors'' beforehand of the proposed sheriff's takeover of the county fire department, yet the people who have to make that decision — county commissioners — learned about it from the newspaper. The rumor-mongering must only travel in select political circles.

If the sheriff wants to share services, perhaps he should start on a smaller scale. Code enforcement is a logical place to begin. It could reverse a trend because White wasn't particularly receptive to past ideas of sharing human resource offices or pool fleet management with the county.

During the cantankerous budget hearings of 2007, White shot down those suggestions, offering excuses that law enforcement's human resource duties are too specialized and that fleet management needed to be secure because not just anyone should be working on deputies' patrol cars.

The validity of those arguments certainly diminished six months later when a longtime sheriff's mechanic was charged with first-degree murder for the 1987 slaying of a former Land O'Lakes woman in Polk County.

Now, commissioners are supposed to hand over the county's fire department and rescue services and its standalone municipal taxing district because White believes he can manage its finances better? We suspect the commission hasn't forgotten the sheriff's recent frugality didn't come about until after the start of his most recent re-election campaign and the Amendment 1 tax exemptions that reduced local government revenue.

White likes to tout his department's efficiencies. But, let's also remember the sheriff acquired and began driving a no-bid SUV at twice the cost of a deputy's patrol cruiser; offered the perk of take-home cars and taxpayer-funded gasoline to nonemergency employees; and retained a human resources consultant for nonspecific training and advisory roles at a cost of $96,000 over four years. Maybe that's why the sheriff can identify savings. He knows what waste looks like.

Commissioner Michael Cox said Fire Chief Anthony Lopinto should be insulted by all this. He has a right to be. The actions of the union and the sheriff have disparaged him. White's suggestion that he could save $4 million — even though he hadn't looked at the fire rescue finances closely — is unprofessional and over-the-top political bravado from a constitutional officer who didn't submit a budget proposal with a decreased bottom line until his ninth year in office.

The union putting more faith in White than in Lopinto or County Administrator John Gallagher parallels the no-confidence vote in the sheriff from deputies in 2008. After his successful re-election, incidentally, White chortled that he had no confidence in the union leadership either. White has never reached a contract agreement with the deputies' union, but Gallagher and the commission do have a valid contract with the fire department.

Perhaps the rank-and-file firefighters should be wondering exactly why their leaders believe a relationship with White will be any different than the sheriff's stance with his own employees' union.

It's easy to see through Pasco firefighters' motivation 08/01/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 1:26pm]
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