Commissioner Fleming on Hot Seat
The final 2019 meeting of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department Board of Commissioners was held Tuesday morning, December 11, 2019, at the Beach Library where three promotions were recognized. The recent actions of Vice-Chair Ron Fleming in relation to union negotiations were also discussed. Present were Chair Larry Wood, Fleming, Commissioner John Bennett and Commissioner Jacki Liszak. Treasurer Bob Raymond was absent.
New Driver Engineers Chris Armiger and Layne Tal, along with new Lieutenant Shaun Jensen were recognized by Fire Chief Matt Love. Each one was issued a patch and a new helmet, identifying their new rank.
The meeting began with Jane Thompson, Finance & Administrative Services Director, providing the board with an overview of the Finance and Administrative Services Division and the services they perform.
During the Fire Chief’s Report, Matt Love noted the recent installation of a hearing impaired smoke alarm accessory, which work with an existing smoke alarm to wake those unable to hear an audible alarm, by use of low frequency sound, a bed shaker and flashing light. A limited number of these are available to hearing impaired residents and available by contacting the Life Safety Division at email@example.com or 239-590-4200.
Love reported that four members of the department participated in a three-day Region 6 Urban Search & Rescue Team training exercise, which involved over 50 USAR team members.
A recent meeting with Lee Health and area ambulance services, including FMB Fire Department regarding “extended offloads” discussed the problem of ambulance crews being delayed at the hospital when the hospital is not ready to receive the patient when they arrive. The ambulance crew must remain with the patient, taking them out of service for an extended period. Love explained that Lee Health’s response was that they are having difficulty moving emergency department patients upstairs and a shortage of nurses may be contributing to the issue. Love stated that the average delay is about 30 minutes, but some crews have been delayed up to 2 hours. All parties will continue to work on solutions.
October staff service anniversaries were noted by Love: Battalion Chief Tom Grow – 27 years; Captain Joe DeVito – 13 years; Lt. Brad Hartman – 11 years; Driver Engineer Willie Edge – 11 years and Driver Engineer Billy Galewski – 11 years.
Fleming & Union Contact
Bennett expressed concern about Fleming having met with union members currently in negotiations with the department. He also noted derogatory remarks made by Fleming regarding the Fire Chief and asked the board to discuss possible board actions. Bennett learned of these issues via a Public Records Request.
Board Attorney Andrew Salzman was present and responded. “When involved in negotiations, we want to make sure there are no one-on-one meetings outside of those negotiations. It goes around what we talked about with our executive session, providing strategy and what you want to see from the negotiations. Your team then negotiates and you vote as a board.” Salzman continued, “If you have an issue with what’s going on (in negotiations), you should bring it to the chief. If you have a problem with the chief, it should be discussed in a public board meeting.”
Fleming responded, “I did meet with the negotiator for the local, to hear his point of view. The text, I agree, I overstepped. I spoke with Chief Love and told him what was coming and apologized…I’ll take your advice, but I still question why an individual commissioner can’t speak to the negotiator because they are part of the team. I just wanted to hear their point of view.”
Liszak told the board that she had also been approached. “It made me really uncomfortable….I reached out and informed the chief. I’m disappointed that I was made to feel wrong about not meeting with them (by those who asked to meet)…It was selective and it was targeted. I believe it was done with the intention to advance negotiations to their advantage.”
Chair Larry Wood said that he sees Fleming’s actions as a serious breach of board policy and asked Salzman for possible board responses. Salzman said that any board action could not take place at the current meeting but could be voted on in January, requiring a 3 – 0 vote.
Fleming apologized for his actions, “In my prior experience I did three contracts. It was not uncommon for 1-2 union members to come to me. They contacted me and I met with them. I won’t again.” He commented that rules are different in Florida.
Liszak said she sees Fleming’s actions as a poor choice, more of a trap. “I lay some blame on the other party for baiting the hook. Unfortunately you had a weak moment and got reeled in.”
Fleming apologized to the board and to the chief, said he’s expressed his full support of the chief so there is no misunderstanding. “I will not meet personally with anyone.” “Florida is not Ohio,” he concluded.