Scary Week for Fireman in Belleair Bluffs Ends With Good News From Largo
By Leo Coughlin
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - Steve Langere had a few bad moments last week.
Langere, a member of the Belleair Bluffs Fire Department that is going out of existence and is transitioning into being subsumed into Largo Fire & Rescue, was found by Largo officials to be "not hireable" as the result of a drug test.
A reversal of that came on Friday.
Chief Mike Wallace of Largo, a friend of Langere dating back to when Wallace was a paramedic firefighter for Largo attached to the engine stationed in Belleair Bluffs, said that "a portion of Langere's 'drug panel' came back positive."
A re-evaluation of the test was done with the result that Largo reversed its earlier decision.
In the meantime, Langere, obviously very upset, sent an e-mail to Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine and members of the City Commission, bewailing the results of the test and that he faced the loss of a job he had held for 27 years.
In that e-mail Langere related how after being initially told by Wallace that he was "not hirable," Wallace later told him that Largo held a conference call with officials at Lakeside Medical, which administers the test.
Langere said that Wallace told him that "even though you did nothing wrong, and nothing illegal you're still are not hire-able with the City of Largo."
Langere said that when he took the test September 8 "I informed the lab employee that I had been taking an over the counter supplementation for increasing my testosterone and vitality. I asked her if the DHEA, Tomcat Ali, and other Chinese herbs I've bought at Vitamin World and over the internet could skew my test results. She smiled, and said 'No, you have nothing to worry about.'"
It turned out that when Wallace reported the results to him, Langere passed everything but that test.
Langere said he later called Lakeside Medical and was advised that the supplements he was taking might have thrown off certain chemical ratios. He said he sent information from his doctor to the testing facility.
Apparently those efforts worked because by week's end the situation changed and Langere will keep his job.
His appeal to Belleair Bluffs officials while evoking sympathy probably could not have had any bearing on changing the situation. The matter was out of the Bluffs' jurisdiction and solely in the hands of Largo officialdom.
Nevertheless, Commissioner Joe Barkley, a rookie member of the Bluffs City Commission, once again demonstrated his enormous ignorance of how government works.
Barkley sent an e-mail to the mayor and his colleagues on the commission and Tom Trask, the city attorney, saying, "Everyone - We have to do something about this!"
Barkley's emotional outburst obviously betrayed his lack of knowledge about the Sunshine Law which was rectified by Bluffs City Clerk Debra Sullivan who cautioned recipients of the e-mail not to respond to Barkley or discuss the matter among themselves.
In one telling absurdity, Barkley addressed Trask within the text of the e-mail with this -
"Tom - What can we do as a Commission to prevent the City of Largo from making this career-ending decision when Steve has done nothing wrong? Do we have any contractual control over this type of arbitrary decision? This smacks of EEOC issues involving Age Discrimination. Steve is 53 years old, and it sure looks like Largo is using the hormone imbalance as an excuse not to hire him."
Other Bluffs officials are hoping the wild accusations and insults by Barkley will be overlooked or forgiven by Largo folks.
Barkley's intemperate e-mail raised issues not even in discussion and accused Largo of bad faith.
Fortunately, there are enough prudent and experienced minds in Largo and Belleair Bluff who will recognize Barkely's wildness as coming from a novice in elected office.
Other than being embarrassed by Barkley, Bluffs officialdom, by the end of the week, was pleased with the outcome and Langere was breathing more easily.
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