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East Lake's fire board suggests more changes

Just a week after the fire board radically changed its structure, some board members already are talking about more changes.

Chairman Bob Genhold, one of three new members sworn in Sept. 30, proposed Wednesday night that the East Lake Fire & Rescue board be expanded from five people to seven.

Genhold also suggested the board members be required to be full-time East Lake residents who are registered to vote in Pinellas County.

Another new board member, Chuck Dedman, suggested that once the board becomes an elected body in 1994, the board members should begin drawing a salary of $100 to $200 a month. Currently board members are unpaid.

The board would vote on those proposed changes at a special meeting next week.

The proposals made by Genhold and Dedman carried strong echoes of the controversy that led to last week's changes.

Beginning in the 1970s, the five-member board always was chosen by the firefighters and the board members themselves. Although the board was spending tax money, East Lake's voters had no say in choosing its members.

Earlier this year, half the department complained to County Administrator Fred Marquis about the way the board was operating the department. They said the board was holding secret meetings and had promised the job of fire chief to a man who had collected a file full of reprimands during his career.

Marquis launched an investigation, and East Lake's two civic groups both called for changing the board to an elected body.

Two of the men who then sat on the fire board drew specific criticism, because one was not a full-time resident of East Lake and the other was not an American citizen. But board members said they did not draw a salary and had a tough time finding people to serve for no pay.

Two local civic groups _ the Citizens Action League and the East Lake Community Council _ called for an elected board, then changed their minds.

They decided the board's structure could not be changed in time to hold a November election, so instead they asked Marquis to set up an appointed fire board until an election could be held in 1994. Marquis agreed, and so did the County Commission.

But the old fire board insisted on some compromises. One was that the board stay at just five members, instead of expanding to seven as the civic groups wanted. Another change they insisted on required Marquis to remove a provision requiring that board members be registered voters _ and therefore American citizens.

With those compromises in place, the old board last week in effect voted itself out of business to satisfy the county. Three of its members left the board, including Orland Smith, the part-time resident.

But of the two who stayed, one was Randy Knight, a car dealer who has retained his Canadian citizenship. The other was the former chairman, Bill Moushey, who had fought for the compromises.

The other three members _ Genhold, Dedman and Jim Nobles _ were all nominated by either the Citizens Action League or the East Lake Community Council. They outvoted Moushey and Knight to name Genhold the chairman, and did it again to fire Tom Gonzalez as the board's attorney.

Knight and Moushey did not show up Wednesday night for the workshop session Genhold called to talk about further changes. But the three new members were there, and they had plenty of questions about why the old board bought an expensive ladder truck and decided to build a new fire station. And they had some new ideas.

When Genhold proposed expanding the board to seven people, he also specified that those two extra people be chosen by the civic groups.

In fact, Genhold said, the reason he was proposing the change was "I have gotten some response from the civic clubs that they would like to see seven people on the board."

Some firefighters asked if they could have a say in picking one of those two people. They were completely shut out of choosing the current board. Genhold said they could serve on committees but could not pick one of the new board members.

Genhold's proposal about requiring board members be registered voters would effectively disqualify Knight from serving on the board. But Genhold said Knight could be allowed to stay on the interim board until the election.

"If we have anybody on the board who is not an American citizen, then we are going to have to grandfather that person in," Genhold said, not naming Knight.

"I think you would have a severe discrimination case if you changed the rules in midstream," Acting Chief Dwaine Booth said.

"Oh!" said firefighter J.

J. Gilmore as his colleagues chuckled. "We wouldn't want that!" The department's only female employee, administrative assistant Donna Armsey, filed a discrimination complaint against the old board with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.