The recent resignations of two North Pinellas public officials who were involved in unbecoming or unprofessional behavior should be a reminder that serving the public is a privilege, not a right. There is an expectation that officials granted the opportunity to serve will set a high standard for their behavior on and off the job.
Tarpon Springs fire Chief Stephen R.M. Moreno resigned Feb. 8 as the city was completing a damning investigation of his behavior at a house fire Jan. 14. Other fire personnel on the scene that night reported that Moreno arrived smelling of alcohol, slurring his words and lacking proper protective gear. He proceeded to direct fire crews in ways that conflicted with the incident commander's orders and could have endangered firefighters, they said. They also reported that Moreno allowed his wife, described as smelling of alcohol and smoking a cigarette, to wander around the fire scene, putting her at risk. One of Tarpon Springs' most prominent citizens, Dr. Frederick Roever, died in the house fire.
While Moreno acknowledged that he had been out drinking with his wife that night, he said he had stopped drinking hours earlier and was not inebriated when he drove to the scene in his city vehicle. However, the detailed testimony of fire crews from other departments on the scene that night painted a different picture. The willingness of those firefighters to publicly criticize a fellow member of the fire service — a relatively uncommon occurrence — was a clue to the seriousness of Moreno's actions.
After reading the investigative report and talking with City Manager Mark LeCouris, Moreno resigned, writing in his resignation letter, "I have come to the conclusion that the events as they occurred, as well as the fallout from those events, have created an adverse condition for all involved." Moreno had been fire chief for four years. Had he not resigned, it is difficult to imagine how LeCouris could have kept him on as chief. Moreno had compromised his ability to lead the department.
More recently, an elected East Lake fire commissioner resigned after admitting that he had posted a sexually explicit profile and photo of himself on an adult Web site. For more than a decade, W.F. Bill Cannon, 70, had been an elected fire commissioner in East Lake, working alongside the other commissioners to oversee the delivery of fire and emergency medical services in the East Lake fire district.
What Cannon did was not illegal, but it was embarrassing to him, the fire commission and fire department. Cannon, like Moreno, had compromised his credibility as a leader and left the public wondering about his judgment. Cannon quickly resigned last week, saying, "I have brought ridicule and embarrassment" to the fire commission and fire district. He said he wanted to spare the commissioners from having to call for his resignation. Cannon made the right decision.
Those who enter public service should know by now that the public expects good judgment and responsible behavior of them — all the time.