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Bigwigs ruined work day, girl says

Published Sep. 13, 2005

Jennifer Fiorentino planned to go to work with her father Thursday for Take Your Daughter to Work Day.

But the fourth-grader said the city put a damper on her plans for father-daughter bonding at work.

"Wednesday I was really happy because I wanted to go work with my dad," she said. "He had a surprise for me and we were going out to lunch. My dad asked the fire chief, his boss, then he asked Jerry Seeber and Mr. Seeber got mad and said no. When he called back, I was mad because I really wanted to go."

Jennifer, 10, is the daughter of a well-known couple in New Port Richey political circles. Her mother, Heather, is a former City Council member who recently resigned to seek a seat in the state House, and her father, Joe, is a city fire inspector.

So when City Manager Gerald Seeber rejected the Fiorentinos' request, they said Jennifer should write a letter to the Times.

"My mom told me and so I started writing," she said. "She wrote it for me and after that I wrote it real neat in my handwriting. Mom helped me with the big words."

Heather Fiorentino clarified that she did not write the letter but only helped her daughter. The letter was born of Jennifer's frustration, she said.

"I want him to change the plan so kids can come to the firehouse and learn what their dads or moms do while they work," Jennifer said.

The city personnel director said that the city has no formal policy on the day, but that the city could be held liable for children riding in city vehicles. He also said that other children came to work Thursday without the city's permission.

"We ended up saying we could work out something for next year, but I just didn't understand why the city was not being involved in a national program," Heather Fiorentino said.

Mayor Peter Altman, meanwhile, said he had no problem with kids coming to work, but found it ironic that the Fiorentinos would champion such a cause.

"It doesn't cause me any heartburn to think of any child following along with any city employee," Altman said. "But it does seem ironic these same issues were raised less than six months ago by the former councilwoman."

Altman said Fiorentino raised "considerable objections" to the former fire chief taking his wife to dinner in a city car, causing the city to rethink its policy on family members using public vehicles.

But the Fiorentinos had volunteered to use their private car instead.

"My dad does not drive a firetruck," Jennifer wrote, perhaps anticipating objections from city officials about the dangerous nature of her father's job. "We planned for an emergency. I was to go to the library and my grandma would come get me."

Altman's response to the Fiorentinos' contingency plans was succinct. "Whatever," he said.

This is not the first time Heather Fiorentino has disagreed with the mayor and city manager.

She wrote a letter to the council in 1996 calling Seeber unethical and unprofessional for saying she should approve an employee insurance plan before he would provide her a copy of it. Seeber denied withholding the document and telling Fiorentino to approve it.

In a contentious council discussion about the plan, Altman rallied behind Seeber and raised conflict-of-interest questions about Fiorentino's vote on issues that affected her husband.

Fiorentino said Friday she hoped her past on the council didn't affect the decision to bar her daughter from the workplace.

"This isn't between me and Jerry," Heather Fiorentino said.

"I would hope we're above that," she said, referring to political payback. "If that's the case, they're not hurting me but hurting my child."