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East Lake fire board member quits

A pair of bombshells hit the already shell-shocked East Lake fire board Monday night.

One board member who had drawn the most criticism resigned without explanation.

And another one announced he had just sent a contract to an applicant for fire chief without consulting the new members of the East Lake Fire & Rescue board.

"I wrote the contract myself," said board member Bill Moushey, who was chairman until two weeks ago. "You can write these contracts. They're very easy to write."

But Chairman Bob Genhold said, "This is not worth the paper it's written on."

When Moushey was chairman of the fire board, the board reviewed more than 70 applications and picked David Meng, acting chief of South Manatee Fire & Rescue, to be the new East Lake fire chief.

The three new board members, who had thought they would have the chance to hire the new chief, were informed of the choice of Meng right after the old board disbanded.

But last week Genhold said he had learned Moushey's old board had not sent Meng a contract. And the minutes of the old board's meetings did not say Meng had been hired, he said.

So at Genhold's urging, the three new board members agreed to invite former fire Chief Ron Taylor to talk to them about getting his old job back. Taylor has said he is interested.

Moushey was not present at last week's meeting, and neither was Randy Knight, the only other holdover from the old board. Knight has been the target of criticism because he attained his post without being either an American citizen or a registered voter.

Genhold started off Monday's special meeting of the board by announcing that Knight had resigned. Knight's letter, dated Sept. 30, was hand-delivered by Moushey on Monday to Genhold.

The letter did not give a reason for Knight's resignation.

"I just don't have the time for it," Knight said by telephone Monday after the meeting.

Board members have not figured out yet how they will replace Knight. They are also considering a measure to expand the board to seven members, instead of the current five. That measure will be voted on in two weeks.

Ninety minutes later, at the end of the meeting, Moushey dropped the second bombshell of the evening by passing out copies of the contract he said he had faxed to Meng that day.

Moushey said the old board did agree to hire Meng, in a secret meeting held in the office at Knight's used car dealership in Clearwater.

"There were no minutes," Moushey said. "This is not something that comes under the Sunshine Law."

Genhold said he would turn the contract with Meng over to the board's attorney, Mike Mooney, but expressed strong doubts that it would hold up legally.

"I just don't like it," Genhold said.

Meng could not be reached for comment after Monday's meeting.

Moushey insisted that by hiring Meng, the old board was just doing what Pinellas County Administrator Fred Marquis wanted _ a statement Acting Chief Dwaine Booth disputed.

"Mr. Marquis said he wanted the new board to hire the chief," Booth said.

No, Moushey insisted, Marquis wanted the old board to hire the chief. But Marquis wanted the new board to officially appoint the chief the old board had picked, Moushey said.

That contradicts a letter Marquis sent the board last month, and a statement he made to a reporter at the same time.

"It seems to me the selection of the new fire chief is so critical that the new board should be in charge of that," Marquis said on Sept. 9.

At the time, Moushey blasted Marquis for interfering with what the old board had planned, calling him "a little frustrated general." He promised the board would ignore Marquis and pick the new chief, and it did so Sept. 29.

Taylor's firing by the old board last March set off a controversy that led to the abolition of the old board. The board ousted Taylor in secret, without filing any documentation of his offenses, then replaced him with Deputy Chief Bill Edling, who had a personnel file full of reprimands.

Half the department complained to Marquis, who launched an investigation. Between pressure from the county and from East Lake's two civic groups, the old board agreed to phase itself out.

With Knight's departure, Moushey is now the only old board member left. But if being in the minority bothered him, he did not let it show. He kept up a steady stream of objections and criticisms to the actions of the three new members Monday.

Afterward one of the new members, Chuck Dedman, commented, "I guess nerve's what makes the world go 'round."

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