One lieutenant in the East Lake fire department has been demoted and another is under investigation as the department and its governing East Lake Fire Commission, an elected body, trade accusations of harassment and racially offensive text messages. Bill Figueredo, who was demoted from lieutenant to driver, was accused of directing a Nazi salute to commission chairman Mark Weinkrantz, but there were no witnesses. Another lieutenant, James Finley, contends he heard Figueredo use a slur against Jews. Figueredo, the department's only minority, denies both accusations and has accused Weinkrantz of calling him a "dirty Mexican" and a derogatory word for homosexuals. Figueredo also accuses Finley of sending out racially offensive text messages. Here are some of the comments posted by readers who saw the Tampa Bay Times story on tampabay.com.
"Clearly those texts show a continuing and overwhelming evidence of a climate of racism in the working environment from Finley to Figueredo, it doesn't matter whether those texts were sent off duty or not! These are our first line defenders, Ladies & Gentlemen! Feel safe, I don't?!"
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"Unfortunately it sounds like we have a corrupt commission and possibly fire department."
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"Unfortunately this has been a long going issue at this and many other departments. There is no evidence in this alleged incident. You can tell from the meeting that it was personal, especially when Mr. Weinkrantz admitted to purchasing pink dumbbells and giving them to the Lieutenant. That there should wipe out his credibility. What needs to happen to get this department back on the right track is terminate the current administration and board of commissioners. Shame on the Chief and the Assistant Chief for letting it get this far ... Shame on the rest of the commissioners for supporting such an idiotic idea and chairman. I can only hope the Florida Ethics Commission and the State Attorney investigate this department and see all the unethical violations occurring and waste of taxpayers' money! CITIZENS STEP UP AND STOP THIS NOW! They continue to waste money on a daily basis and increase your taxes! CALL FOR THE IMMEDIATE REMOVAL OF THE ADMINISTRATION AND COMMISSIONERS NOW!
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"Oh let me guess, "there just are not enough qualified minorities," or pick any of the other lame excuses that may be offered. So let me get this straight, they demote their only minority FD employee with no proof of wrongdoing ... sounds to me like a personal problem. Time for changes to occur with the commission and the FD. No more excuses."
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"So this is the crap that goes on when the fire truck is not idling for 20 minutes outside of Publix while they're shopping for what they'll cook for dinner. Pretty sad."
"Get rid of all these little fiefdoms - both sides. Merge ALL small little departments (save a TON of taxpayer money on too-high wages for Sgts, Lts, Capts, Majors, etc., and so forth). And for sure, get rid of these small town politicians. MERGE, MERGE, MERGE."
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"This entire situation has been dealt with in a very unprofessional and, by many accounts, an illegal manner. As far as the initial accusation at hand, there are zero witnesses to come forward over the course of this investigation. It is one man's word versus another. The complaint by Mr. Weinkrantz was filed several weeks after the 'incident' took place. Why so long? Chief Jamison, who is well respected throughout the Pinellas fire community, did not act quickly due to the potential high profile spotlight that it would bring. Had he acted quickly, this may have not snowballed into what it has become today. The bottom line is, whether the accused used the Nazi sign or not, there is insufficient evidence and this would be thrown out in any court of law and will lose in arbitration. The Commission's own lawyer doesn't even believe the decision will be upheld. Citizens of East Lake, this is your wasted money; show up to a meeting and let the Commission know that this is wrong!"