Arbutine Suspends Chief in Bluffs, Urges Firing for Opposing Commission
By Leo Coughlin
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - Mayor Chris Arbutine suspended Fire Chief Patrick Competelli Monday pending his recommendation to the City Commission that the chief be fired.
The commission was to take up Arbutine's demand at a special meeting Wednesday night.
Monday's events were not without drama and the revelation of some mystery.
Arbutine, accompanied by two sheriff's deputies, hand delivered the notice of suspension (with pay) to Competelli who was then escorted from the fire station on Indian Rocks Road.
The mystery element is this - at some point Competelli, along with Commissioner Suzy Sofer and Sofer's father, Stan, who is a member of the Belleair Beach City Council, and a union representative of fire fighters went to Belleair to meet with those town officials to "renegotiate" and apparently to re-establish relations with Belleair.
Suzy Sofer was elected in March to her first term in public office and as of Monday obviously had no idea of how government worked or the protocols involved. By accompanying her, Stan, her father, displayed an equal appalling lack of knowledge.
The current fire situation, with Belleair Bluffs on the verge of becoming part of the Largo Fire & Rescue Service, began last spring when Belleair abandoned its fire service relationship with Belleair Bluffs and contracted for those services with Largo.
That threw a monkey wrench into the finances of the Bluffs supporting its own fire department and there is now a referendum scheduled September 1 for Bluffs voters to grant the City Commission the power to contract with any party of fire services.
That party, of course, would be Largo.
But Competelli, who strongly supported this move in a presentation June 30, has now reversed field.
He made that clear in an e-mail message to Arbutine Monday in which he suggested that the Bluffs commission "put a hault (sic) to contracting out for Fire and ALS services to the City of Largo at this time."
Needless to say, with Bluffs contracting with Largo, Competelli would lose his job as chief, but his reasons given in the message to Arbutine was that there "needs to be more time for educating the public and the commission on what will be left if station #43 (the Bluffs fire station) is no longer run by Belleair Bluffs."
He also said, "I am greatly concerned by the possibility of increased response times" with Largo in charge.
That statement is in stark contrast with what Competelli told the City Commission and the public on June 30 when he said, "Largo Fire Rescue is a world class department . . . Largo can provide much more equipment for much less money than attempting to maintain" the Bluffs Fire Department.
He went on to say, "I will stand beside (Largo) Chief (Mike) Wallace and my men until this transition is complete."
But on Monday his judgment, expressed in that e-mail to Arbutine, was "that we need to hold off for another year at least, or longer in order to put all the necessary pieces together."
An outstanding aspect, and raising glaring and important questions, obviously, was the action of Belleair Bluffs Sofer and Competelli attempting to meet with Belleair officials.
Arbutine said he learned about that when Belleair officials contacted him, consternated by the off the wall move, and wondered what was going on.
Arbutine said Monday that the move by Sofer and Competelli was totally unofficial, not authorized, and probably a violation of law.
Most mysterious of all was why Sofer's father was in on the act. It was said by one source that he was there for "moral support."
Arbutine's purpose in calling the special meeting was for the stated and express purpose of firing Competelli. In his message calling for a special meeting Arbutine said, "Over the past few weeks I have been carefully reviewing the direction given to Fire Chief Competelli and the actions that he has taken in response to the direction given to him by the City Commission."
Noting Competelli's e-mail of Monday, Arbutine said "it became clear to me that Chief Competelli has not followed the direction of the Commission in regard to preparing a plan of action to provide a smooth transition with the Largo Fire Rescue Department, should the referendum vote authorize such transition."
Pointing out the conflict in Competelli's June 30 and August 3 statements, Arbutine called Competelli "indecisive and he fails to have the ability to lead the Fire Department through the transition and has failed to follow the direction given to him by the City Commission."
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