INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Mayor Bill Ockunzzi of Indian Rocks Beach moved swiftly last week to prevent a secret meeting between local beach mayors and representatives of the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District.
Ockunzzi did not term the meeting secret but used the term “closed door.”
The point is that the public would be excluded from the meeting scheduled today at 10 a.m. in Indian Shores.
He addressed his caution – “Please reconsider the decision to exclude the public” – to his fellow mayors who make up the district and fire officials. “The meeting should be open to the public,” he said.
The hope is that a portion of the outraged public does show up at the 10 a.m. meeting at the Indian Shores City Hall.
Besides Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores, Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore, plus a portion of the mainland (represented by county officials), make up the district. This lineup also constitutes the Oversight Review Board that has commissioned a review of the fire district.
Planned to be discussed at the meeting is a future fire district that would embrace other beach communities.
The idea of keeping the public (which pays all the freight for the fire department) was the brainchild of Jim Lawrence, the mayor of Indian Shores.
His argument is based on his claim that the Sunshine Law does not apply, so the public can be excluded. He said that no more than one elected official will be present from the cities making up the district thus the law does not apply.
Also not invited, but probably not subject to being shut out of the meeting are the mayors of Redington Shores, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach and Madeira Beach. These are the cities that are proposed to be drawn into an expanded Pinellas Suncoast fire district.
Proposing the idea of a secret, exclude the public meeting, is typical of some elected officials who would prefer to operate behind closed doors, out of public view. It is exactly this propensity that brought into being the Sunshine Law.
These are the cities that are proposed to be drawn into an expanded Pinellas Suncoast district.
Ockunzzi expanded on his idea of an open meeting in his written memo to other mayors by saying, “The frank and open discussion of fire district issues . . . has resulted in broad public understanding and support for resolution of the issues at hand.”
He pointed out how the Oversight Review group has made progress regarding solving district problems and “is on the cusp of developing solutions (including consideration of a "beaches fire district" or some other reconfiguration).”
“I believe ‘closed door’ meetings will damage prospects for a ‘beaches fire district’ as well as resolution of all issues under consideration by the Oversight Review Board,” Ockunzzi said.
Ockunzzi was the official who first proposed the idea of consolidating fire service among beach communities at a meeting of the oversight group in March. Fire district officials have expressed no opposition to an expanded, consolidated district.
Whatever happens in the PSF&R district, it will have to pass muster with the state Legislature which controls the district.
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