1. #26
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    Post Former Chief to be interviewed by FBI during probe

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    Former chief Tobin yet to be interviewed in FBI probe of fire district

    Saturday, December 28, 2002

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    An FBI probe into the finances of the North Naples fire district won't be coming to an end anytime soon.

    Investigators launched a full-scale investigation of the fire district earlier this fall when they interviewed at least two fire commissioners, seized computers and retrieved computer hard drives.

    More interviews are on the horizon for fire district officials, said Sgt. David White, an investigator with the Collier County Sheriff's Office Economic Crimes Unit.

    "We're planning on it," said White, noting that more interviews are scheduled. "We don't know when the investigation will be closed."

    White was tight-lipped about the federal probe, saying the case is an ongoing investigation.

    James Tobin, who left the fire chief post Aug. 29 saturated by controversy, hasn't been questioned by authorities, according to Tobin's lawyer, Ray Bass.

    "I haven't spoken to the FBI and (Tobin) hasn't spoken to anybody," Bass said. "I have instructed (Tobin) that if any law enforcement wants to talk to him, that he would call me first.

    Bass also said he's unaware of the nature of the FBI investigation or upon whom investigators are closing in.

    "I don't know what they're looking for," he said. "I don't know if Tobin is the target or not."

    During the past two years, Tobin has been embroiled in one controversy after another, following a Daily News investigation that revealed how Tobin and others used district-issued credit cards for purchases for which there were no receipts.

    Fire Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio pointed to inconsistencies in the district's finances during Tobin's tenure as the focus of the FBI investigation.

    "From my personal research, two things that concern me and that I've noticed would be the (district's) investment and record-keeping," Rautio said. "The misuse of district credit cards and debit cards, I think, is a big one."

    Rautio, who will be sworn in as the fire board's secretary/treasurer in January, said she believes that Tobin and other fire district personnel should be worried about the federal probe.

    "I believe that Mr. Bass is attempting to represent his client," she said. "I think his client (Tobin) and other employees have a lot to be concerned with."

    Tobin left his $94,000-a-year job Aug. 29 in exchange for $300,000 in severance pay, a deal negotiated by Fire Commission Chairman Ed Maguire.

    That day, Maguire and Tobin, along with attorneys for each side, met behind closed doors excluding the public and agreed that the district would offer Tobin the $300,000 if he were to step down.

    Investigators questioned Maguire and Fire Commissioner Steve Milligan in October when federal officials confiscated fire district computers. Maguire has said he has hired Naples attorney Jerry Berry to represent him.

    Recently, Milligan said he doesn't have an attorney and isn't planning to retain one.

    "I believe I have done nothing wrong and there's no need for it," he said. "I have my personal convictions as a Christian and my conscience is clear."

    Since Tobin's departure, he has received $31,160.72, representing four months' severance. The $300,000 severance is in litigation in Collier County circuit court.

    Janet Vasey, a local government watchdog, filed suit in September against Tobin and the fire district to block the severance payout. A judge granted Vasey's request for an injunction, blocking the district from paying Tobin the money.

    Bass said he filed an appeal on behalf of Tobin, asking the state 2nd District Court of Appeal to lift the injunction issued by a Collier judge in September.

    Recently, fire commissioners discussed discrepancies found in Tobin's payroll time sheets from earlier this year. The district's former chief financial officer said he had crossed out information on Tobin's time sheets at Tobin's orders to show that Tobin was working when he was actually on vacation. That controversy prompted commissioners to not award Tobin additional money the former chief was expecting for his accrued sick and vacation time, holiday pay and retirement money.

    White and FBI Agent Keith Hicks interrogated Maguire and Milligan on Oct. 10, the same day investigators seized district computers and computer hard drives, including ones in Tobin's former office and in the office of the ex-chief's administrative assistant, Lisa Stefani.

    Stefani, who has been employed with the district for 11 years, has retained Naples attorney Eric Vasquez to represent her during the federal probe. Fire commissioners agreed to reimburse Tobin's former assistant for up to $2,000 for her legal bills, after Stefani asked them to pay her attorney fees.

    Former Deputy Fire Chief Bill Hansell, now a fire inspector, hired attorney Lee Hollander to represent him, although Hansell has said he hasn't yet been questioned by federal authorities.

    The majority of fire commissioners recently agreed to reimburse Hansell for up to $2,000 in legal bills, as a result of the FBI probe.

    While investigators continue their inquiries into fire district finances, a certified forensic accountant hired by the district is conducting his own internal investigation. Stephen Cohen, a Naples forensic accountant, already has released a preliminary report citing 14 examples of separate instances in which Tobin abused his power at the district, operating the department as a private business.

    Among Cohen's findings, so far, is how Tobin used district bank credit cards and debit cards for personal expenses and how he stayed at five-star hotels while on district-related business, rather than staying in less costly rooms.

    Cohen has yet to report on the findings of the complete internal investigation of the fire district.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  2. #27
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    Exclamation As Time Drags on ...More and More Surfaces

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    Former North Naples fire chief charged Edison class to taxpayers before leaving

    Sunday, January 5, 2003
    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    Less than a month before James Tobin stepped down as North Naples fire chief in exchange for a $300,000 severance package, the veteran firefighter enrolled in a college program to train as a state-certified emergency medical technician.

    When he did, he paid for the courses using his district-issued credit card, records show.

    Records obtained by the Daily News show that on Aug. 1, Tobin charged $601.75 with Edison Community College to pay for a 16-week course of EMT classes for emergency room, ambulance and 911 communications training.

    It marked at least the second time Tobin used the district's charge account to pay for college courses during his five-year tenure. Tobin left Aug. 29 after the majority of fire commissioners awarded him the $300,000 severance, now the subject of a taxpayer challenge in court.

    By charging his courses to the district credit card, Tobin violated district policy, which states employees must first complete the course work and obtain a passing grade before being reimbursed, said James Webb, the North Naples interim fire chief.

    "My take of the district policy is that nobody will be paid ahead of time period," Webb said. "There was no oversight of the chief. The oversight is that the policy is to be adhered to and observed by all members of the district. Did it work? Apparently not."

    At least two fire commissioners say they want to examine the new revelations about Tobin, whose service to the district was marked by one controversy after another in his final two years.

    This new information and other topics are expected to be discussed at the next fire commission meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday at fire station No. 45 at Veterans Park off Immokalee Road.

    Fire commissioners Steve Milligan and Joyceanna "J.A." Rautio say that if Tobin violated district policy when he enrolled at Edison and charged courses on district-provided credit cards, then the ex-chief should pay back the district.

    "This is the first time I've heard of this and I know nothing about it," Milligan said. "Anytime anybody violates the policy, it concerns me. We'd have to check the circumstances. If money is owed back to the district it's owed to the district. If it's a violation, then, yes (Tobin owes money)."

    Rautio said she's concerned about the possible abuse of taxpayer dollars at Tobin's expense one in a series of examples of how Tobin used his $94,000-a-year job to run the department as his own business.

    A forensic accountant hired by the district is conducting an internal investigation of the district's finances. So far, the review has concluded that Tobin ran the district as his personal company, misusing taxpayer dollars and not adhering to policy.

    "I believe that if we establish that the chief took this EMT course in violation of the policy, we should discuss it in an open meeting whether or not he should pay it back to the district because he would have misused taxpayers' funds," Rautio said. "My observation of former Chief Tobin is that he would take advantage of any opportunity to spend taxpayers' dollars. He'd do it whether he had approval or not."

    Earlier this year, Tobin's ex-assistant, Lisa Stefani, told fire commissioners that Tobin had instructed her to do his college course work while he pursued a bachelor's degree in executive management at International College, from which he graduated in 2000.

    Fire district records show that Tobin used taxpayer money when he charged more than $7,000 for one year of tuition to International College, a private university with campuses in Naples and Fort Myers.

    Attorney Ray Bass, who represents Tobin in the case involving the $300,000 payout, contends Tobin owes the district nothing.

    "The district policy is whatever (Tobin) decided or whatever the members of the board decided," Bass said. "It was loosely done. Anybody that knows, these policies were basically guidelines and not rigid requirements. It's a guideline not a hard and fast rule."

    It's the district that is indebted to Tobin and hasn't paid Tobin the promised $300,000, Bass said.

    Then-commission Chairman Ed Maguire negotiated the payout with Tobin and attorneys for both sides behind closed doors Aug. 29 the last day of Tobin's employment in the North Naples fire district.

    But Tobin hasn't received all the money. A Collier circuit judge upheld the request of a local government watchdog, who filed the lawsuit to block the district from paying it all to Tobin, and the matter remains tied up in court.

    Maguire and commissioners Henry Hamel and Christopher Lombardo, who was recently elected fire commission chairman, were unavailable for comment.

    Kim Dickerson, EMS coordinator for Edison College, said Tobin was enrolled in the EMT Basic Certificate Program during the 2002 fall semester, which began Aug. 26 and ended Dec. 13.

    The starting annual salary for an emergency medical technician is $23,000 to $24,000, she said.

    Lester Lugo, registrar at Edison College, declined to say whether Tobin earned passing grades for the four classes he was enrolled in during the fall term. Lugo noted that student confidentiality rules prevent him from disclosing such information.

    He did say, however, that it appears Tobin hasn't yet received a degree from the college.

    Lugo said Tobin is scheduled to begin the spring term this week and is enrolled for two classes: one in biology, the other in anatomy and physiology.

    "Based on some of the course work (Tobin) has taken, it looks like he would have been able to receive that EMT basic certificate," Lugo said. "It may not have been awarded yet. It is possible that he would have earned his certificate but we haven't finished the process for graduation for the fall term. There also may be other requirements that we're waiting for him to finish."

    Rautio said it's clear to her why Tobin would enroll in an EMT course just 28 days before his departure and two weeks after Tobin informed Maguire that he wanted to resign as chief.

    Two weeks before Tobin charged the Edison College courses on the district-issued credit card on Aug. 1 the then-chief wrote a July 17 letter addressed to Maguire, asking to rescind his letter of resignation, which he had given Maguire just two days earlier on July 15.

    Maguire has denied receiving or knowing about either letter. The first letter, in which Tobin stated his intentions to resign from the district, has never been located. Tobin addressed the second letter to Maguire's business address in North Naples.

    "(Tobin) conveniently applied for the EMT course knowing full well that he'd be leaving soon," Rautio said. "It's curious that you could draw a connection between mid-July and the first of August when he signed up for this course. I think a reasonable person could make a connection between the two."
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  3. #28
    55 Years & Still Rolling
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    Talking As Yogi Would Say......

    It ain't over til it's over...... Or something like that. Wow... For the record, I am Not applying for the Fire Chief's position there. God, what a mess.... Stay Safe....
    Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
    In memory of
    Chief Earle W. Woods, 1912 - 1997
    Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006

    IACOJ Budget Analyst

    I Refuse to be a Spectator. If I come to the Game, I'm Playing.

    www.gdvfd18.com

  4. #29
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    Post Updated Story

    Naples Daily News

    Judge will decide fate of ex-fire chief's severance payment

    Wednesday, March 5, 2003
    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com

    Two attorneys, one North Naples fire commissioner and a fire chief walked into a closed-door meeting and struck a deal worth $300,000 on Aug. 29, 2002.

    The agreement, which involved taxpayer dollars, was negotiated without members of the public present.

    Now it will be up to a Collier County circuit judge to conclude whether the closed-door session violated state open meeting laws and if the $300,000 severance payment awarded to ex-Fire Chief James Tobin is invalid.

    On Tuesday, Naples attorney Fred Hardt took depositions from the four men who privately met, contemplated a pay-out and finally reached the $300,000 severance agreement for then-chief Tobin.

    Tobin, along with his attorney, Ray Bass, then-fire commission chairman Ed Maguire and the fire department's attorney, Christopher Marsala, met on that day, with approval from the fire board, to discuss the possible buyout of Tobin's 10-year contract with the department.

    That conference was a clear violation of Florida's Sunshine Law, which allows members of the public access to public hearings and meetings, Hardt contends.

    "All of this is null and void," Hardt said of the agreement. "The public can't be excluded. Florida courts have repeatedly stated that it is the entire decision-making process to which the Sunshine Laws apply. When Mr. Maguire went into that closed-door meeting, it was a violation of the Sunshine Law. The public meeting was recessed."

    When the men emerged, the five-member fire commission board voted 3-2 to award Tobin the $300,000.

    During the closed-door negotiations, according to Hardt, Bass stated his client was entitled to $800,000 the remaining sum of Tobin's 5 1/2-year contract with the district. When a disagreement ensued, the $300,000 was agreed upon by both sides.

    Hardt is the lawyer representing Janet Vasey, a local government watchdog who filed a lawsuit in September 2002 against Tobin and the North Naples Fire District to stop payment on the $300,000 payout.

    Marsala, of the law firm Cardillo, Keith & Bonaquist, was the only one who took some handwritten notes of the gathering. Marsala presented half of a piece of paper, Hardt said, during Tuesday's deposition. Other than that, there are no known minutes, recordings or other notes that were taken during the meeting.

    Tobin was due to receive the first $150,000 installment of the $300,000 on Oct. 1, 2002. The second half of the payment was to be due on Oct. 1 of this year.

    After Vasey filed suit, a circuit court judge upheld Vasey's request, saying the district should not pay Tobin either amount while the matter is tied up in litigation.

    On Aug. 29, 2002, the five-member board of fire commissioners met to discuss the possibility of releasing Tobin from his $94,000-a-year post, for which he had served about 4-1/2 years of his 10-year contract with the district.

    Bass, who is Tobin's lawyer, said the issue of whether what transpired behind closed-doors was a violation of the Sunshine Law is "not even a close call."

    "It was not a public meeting as defined by the Sunshine Law," Bass said. "By definition, it wasn't a meeting under the Sunshine Law, because you'd have to have more than one commissioner there. Nobody (else) was invited. Nobody asked to be there."

    Maguire, who is now fire commission vice chairman, declined to comment, saying there were multiple "attorneys working on this" case. Last fall, Maguire told the Daily News that he had retained Naples attorney Jerry Berry. On Tuesday, Maguire would not confirm or deny this and hung up on a Daily News reporter.

    Christopher Lombardo, the district's newly appointed fire commission chairman, said he didn't consider the meeting a violation of the Sunshine Law because only one elected official met with the three other people involved.

    "The fire commission did not go behind closed doors," Lombardo said. "But, I did not participate in that conversation. I was not party to that. I can't say what happened at that meeting."

    Lombardo and another commissioner, Joyceanna "JA" Rautio, voted against Tobin's $300,000 severance package. Maguire, along with commissioners Henry Hamel and Steve Milligan voted in favor.

    Lombardo said that, at the Aug. 29 fire commission meeting, the intention behind the meeting among Maguire, Tobin and both attorneys was clear.

    "Ray Bass refused to tell us what it was Tobin wanted," Lombardo recalled. "(The closed-door meeting) was a decision of how to handle Tobin's departure."

    Hardt says he's confident that the meeting was a Sunshine Law violation because he's got case law on his side.

    The next step for Hardt is to file a summary brief with the courts, stating that Tobin's severance agreement should be voided.

    Hardt said that if the Collier circuit judge does not side with him, he would then hold a second deposition to interrogate Hamel, Milligan and other fire district staff. Commissioners Lombardo and Rautio would not be required to attend that deposition, Hardt said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  5. #30
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    Post Former Deputy Chief Under Close Scrutiny..The Saga Continues

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    Fire department claims bookkeeping errors led to employee's extra vacation time

    Wednesday, March 5, 2003
    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


    Twenty seven weeks of vacation.

    Four weeks of sick leave.

    Seven weeks off to tend to personal business.

    Add it all up and you have 8-1/2 months of time off for a former high-ranking member of the North Naples Fire District.

    Bill Hansell, the district's one-time deputy fire chief, has been on vacation since November and he's not expected back to work until May. It could have been longer.

    A close inspection of Hansell's accrued paid time off revealed an accounting mistake in the computation of his available time off.

    Fire Commissioner Henry Hamel asked fire district personnel to closely review Hansell's personnel records after receiving an inquiry from the Daily News, alerting Hamel about Hansell's accrued paid time off.

    Becky Pogan, the district's chief financial officer, double-checked the records and uncovered a 300-hour discrepancy in the available vacation time for Hansell.

    The apparent bookkeeping error, which was made years ago before Pogan began working at the fire department, has been fixed leaving Hansell with 300 fewer hours, or 7-1/2 weeks less, of paid vacation time, records show.

    Had the accounting error not been caught, Hansell would have had enough paid time off to be out an extra three months, returning to his job in August rather than May. In essence, Hansell could have been away from the district and still getting paid for 8-1/2 months.

    He would have been paid more than 1,100 hours of vacation time or about 27 weeks, district records show.

    Two separate payroll mistakes occurred after Hansell accepted a new position in the district some years ago, going from a union employee to deputy fire chief and financial officer, reporting directly to then-Fire Chief James Tobin.

    "His hours were double-added," Hamel said. "He's not going to be given that. But there doesn't appear to be any question of (time sheets) that were changed. It was just an administrative mistake."

    Hansell, a veteran firefighter with the department, was unavailable for comment.

    But he's now in hot water with James Webb, the district's newly appointed chief.

    Webb said Hansell is facing possible disciplinary action not for his paid time off but pertaining to two unrelated matters.

    The new revelations about Hansell's accrued time off have raised a red flag for another fire commissioner, who said she's astonished at how much time off Hansell has on district payroll books.

    Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio said she's perplexed that Hansell was allowed to carry over so much paid time off during the time Tobin was fire chief.

    The immense amount of Hansell's accrued paid time off concerned Rautio.

    "It occurs to me as a fire commissioner that I was informed that everybody at some point, a number of years ago, would have to use or lose or be paid for excessive vacation time," Rautio said. "Just because Tobin as the former fire chief did anything he wanted, does not make it correct or legal or fair to other employees."

    Rautio also noted that Hansell should have been aware of the double booking of his vacation hours.

    "It's an administrative mistake that was done, in my opinion, with Hansell's full knowledge because he was in charge as the chief financial officer at the time," Rautio said.

    Webb said Hansell wasn't allowed to take time off when Tobin was chief. Instead, Hansell was allowed to carry over vacation time and other personal time for years.

    "(Hansell) had an exorbitant amount of vacation time saved up and he's taking that now," Webb said. "I ordered him to take this time off or he would lose it at the end of the year."

    Webb said it was important for fire department personnel to examine Hansell's payroll time sheets to ensure that the information was accurate.

    Last fall, Hansell hired Naples attorney Lee Hollander to represent him after statements Hansell made to the Daily News concerning his role in the amendment of public records.

    At the time, Hansell said Tobin had ordered him to alter Tobin's payroll time sheets and cross out information to show Tobin was working, when the former chief actually was on vacation.

    Tobin left the department Aug. 29 in exchange for a $300,000 severance package. A government watchdog filed a lawsuit in September against the district and Tobin to bar payout of the lump sum, and the issue is now in the courts.

    Hansell also is facing possible disciplinary action on two counts, Webb said.

    In a Jan. 22 memo from Webb to Hansell, the chief informed Hansell that he could face disciplinary action for:


    failing to divulge the master password to AOL, the district's Internet provider account, even after Hansell was no longer chief financial officer;

    enrolling and taking a fire prevention practices course Jan. 6-10, even though Hansell took the course 13 years ago.
    It took four months for fire district staff to finally learn the master password from Hansell, Webb said.

    "It wasn't that Hansell was holding the information hostage," he said. "We didn't know as a district that we didn't have the master password."

    Pogan said that after she came aboard "we couldn't get any billing information from AOL at all because we didn't have the master password. The account was under Tobin and Hansell's name."

    Webb said Hansell, who took a pay cut and accepted a job as a fire inspector in the department, never informed the chief that he had taken the fire prevention course at one time.

    By accepting the fire inspector job, Hansell's annual salary dropped in November from $72,349.60 to $54,778.87 a difference of more than $17,500 a year.

    The course, which costs $60, would be paid by the taxpayer-supported district. Hansell's travel expenses and meals were also paid for by the district when he went to the fire academy in Ocala to take the courses, Webb said.

    "Hansell can't operate as an inspector until he finishes five classes," Webb said.

    Webb said the department is delaying payment for the course until a determination is made about Hansell.

    "We don't know what's going to happen (with Hansell)," Webb said. "Disciplinary action could range from no action to a written reprimand, verbal reprimand, time off without pay or more severe sanctions, which would be possible dismissal."

    In mid-February, Hansell showed up at the district with Hollander to address Webb's notice of disciplinary action.

    Hamel and Commissioner Steve Milligan noted that they didn't have any reason to believe that Hansell had amended his own payroll time sheets, even though Hansell had admitted doing so for Tobin.

    "I don't think Bill (Hansell) would ever have done anything with his own time sheets," Milligan said.

    Added Hamel, "The chief (Webb) and Becky (Pogan) looked through the time sheets and I trust what they say. Hansell's time sheets were not altered in any way."
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  6. #31
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    Post Future Chiefs will be screened carefully

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    Commission considers psychological evals for any fire chief applicants

    Tuesday, March 11, 2003
    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com

    North Naples fire commissioners are trying to decide whether to require future fire chief applicants to undergo a psychological evaluation.

    Last month, fire commissioners selected James Webb, a 26-1/2 year firefighter, as the department's permanent chief.

    However, when Webb retires in about four years, the fire district wants to have criteria in place about hiring a new leader. A four-member panel of the district's chief selection committee is contemplating requirements such as psychological screening.

    Commissioners and others have weighed in on whether future chief candidates should be required to submit to such screening. The committee formed in the wake of the controversial exit of James Tobin as fire chief last year.

    Scott Palmateer, president of the firefighters' union, said he supports such a test.

    "I think it's important for someone to be in a position like that to make sure they're mentally competent," he said. "For a job like this, you want to make sure a person is stable enough to handle it. An evaluation like that would show somebody's tempers and mood swings."

    Webb and Palmateer serve on the chief selection committee alongside fire commissioner Henry Hamel and citizen volunteer Sid Jackson.

    But already there's disagreement about the issue.

    Some members of the chief selection committee want to ensure that whoever is chosen to lead the district, once Webb retires, that the person will not be plagued with mental disorders, which could interfere with the day-to-day pressures of the job.

    The matter is a sensitive one because should the fire department adopt a policy that requires job candidates to undergo a psychological test, medical records and privacy issues would automatically surface, Webb noted.

    "I'm not for it," Webb said. "I don't think psychological testing is really something the district really needs to get into. What needs to happen is that we need to look at the background and performance of candidates over the years."

    James Jones, the district's retired fire chief, sent a response to the district at the request of the fire commission board, stating he was in favor of a psychological screening exam.

    "The district has gone to the effort to develop a fire chief selection procedure because of the past experience, the growth in the area and the legal atmosphere that it faces every day," Jones' letter states. "Therefore the district should have the entire procedure approved by only the best of legal assistance."

    District staff consulted with a board-certified labor attorney, who specializes in human resources.

    Deborah C. Brown, of the Tampa legal firm Thompson, Sizemore and Gonzalez, has advised against psychological testing.

    "The utilization of personality or cognitive skills assessments does not appear to be a common selection process utilized in the public sector," Brown said in a letter.

    Brown also cited what factors the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission considers acceptable practices during job screenings.

    According to the EEOC, "psychological examinations are medical if they provide evidence that would lead to identifying a mental disorder or impairment."

    A chief's selection committee came about last fall just a few months after Tobin resigned Aug. 29 in exchange for a $300,000 severance package. A taxpayer lawsuit filed last year blocked the district from paying Tobin all of the money and the case remains tied up in Collier Circuit Court.

    During the last two years of Tobin's five-year tenure, he was embroiled in one controversy after another.

    Linda Johnson, the district's fired bookkeeper, told the Daily News last year how Tobin exhibited strange behavior. She said Tobin would go from yelling at employees one minute to singing nursery rhymes the next.

    Naples Certified Public Accountant Stephen Cohen recently reported how Tobin ran the district like a private business and would frequently tell employees "I'm the chief" and point to his fire chief insignia if someone were to challenge him.

    At last month's fire commission meeting, commission Chairman Christopher Lombardo and Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio said they weren't sure whether a psychological profile would work or how accurate it would be.

    "I am concerned about whether we can or can't make someone take a psychological exam," Lombardo said.

    Rautio said, "(The test) may not identify a bipolar person or a manic depressive."

    When it comes to identifying how people will act in situations, Hamel, the chief selection committee chairman, believes you never know what you're going to get.

    "I don't know how predictable (the test) would be," he said. "It's pretty hard to predict human behavior."

    A chief selection committee meeting will be held sometime next week.

    The North Naples board of fire commissioners is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m., Thursday, March 13, at fire station No. 45 at Veterans Park off Immokalee Road.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  7. #32
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    Post A New Controversy Surfaces....Fire Truck Missing???

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    NNFD: District now facing questions over fire engine

    Friday, March 14, 2003
    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com

    There's a new mystery circling in North Naples.

    A question about whether a 40,000-pound fire engine worth $350,000 is missing from the North Naples Fire District spawned disbelief and confusion Thursday among fire commissioners and district staff.

    During a fire commission meeting, Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio said she was deeply concerned about the whereabouts of one of two fire engines known as "No. 46."

    District staff failed to provide adequate information to commissioners about the location of one of two No. 46 fire engines that is supposed to be housed at fire station No. 46 on Pine Ridge Road near Livingston Road.

    No one could determine whether there were two fire trucks labeled "46," if both were in operation or when the vehicles were purchased.

    A bank checkbook for the district's impact fee fund account used to purchase fire engines was found in former chief James Tobin's residence one month after his Aug. 29, 2002, resignation from the department, records show.

    Fire commission Chairman Christopher Lombardo grew frustrated when he couldn't get answers.

    "Where are the trucks? Did we buy two trucks?" Lombardo asked. "It seems to me that if we have two engine 46s, we have VIN (vehicle identification) numbers. I question, did we buy two vehicles? Did we lose one? Can anyone tell me?"

    The fire engine issue prompted fire commissioners to request Naples Certified Public Accountant Stephen Cohen to conduct a more thorough review of the district's finances, including an investigation of the department's impact fee fund.

    Commissioners unanimously agreed to expend $7,000 for an extensive audit of the district's finances dating to Jan. 1, 1997, and through Sept. 30, 2001.

    Recently, Cohen reported his findings from a three-year review of district financial records, criticizing the department for its financial record- keeping during the time Tobin was fire chief.

    Tobin resigned from his post after the majority of fire commissioners awarded him a $300,000 compensation payout. But a lawsuit filed by a local government watchdog is preventing the district from disbursing all of the money.

    The case is tied up in Collier Circuit Court.

    The district has already paid Cohen $14,500 for the first audit investigation, which he completed last month.

    Now the district, which has been under intense public scrutiny for the past couple of years, has yet another controversy to deal with.

    Where is the other fire engine No. 46?

    A glossy photograph of a red fire truck, believed to be engine 46, hangs from a wall at station No. 45, the fire district's administrative headquarters at Veterans Park off Immokalee Road.

    The way in which the fire district's impact fee fund was utilized in the past to pay for one of the "46" fire engines prompted Rautio to question why there were two engines known as "46" and where they are being kept.

    "We bought two 46s. It wasn't just a numbering error," Rautio pointed out. "It would appear that there's more than one truck 46."

    Orly Stoltz, the district's deputy chief of operations, told commissioners that one of the No. 46 fire engines in question was green at one point but was later painted red.

    He said it wasn't unusual for the district to move fire trucks from one station to the next or for staff to swap engines, depending on whether one vehicle had too much mileage and another was below average.

    Rautio said she wants to know definitively whether the district during Tobin's tenure utilized the impact fee fund to purchase an extra fire engine not out of need for growth within the district but to replace other apparatus.

    Purchases for replacement of capital assets, such as a fire truck, through the impact fee fund isn't allowed under Florida law, Rautio contended. Instead, the fund is intended to pay for those capital assets bought as a result of the district's growth.

    Impact fees are assessed for new homes and businesses built in the county. The fees initially are paid by developers, who then pass them on to consumers by raising prices.

    The district recovered the impact fee fund checkbook one month after Tobin left the district.

    Records show that Jerry Sanford, the district's public information officer, retrieved the impact fund checkbook from Tobin's residence when Sanford went to pick up a series of other items such as fire district bunker gear. The impact fee fund checkbook was returned to the district Sept.

    30, 2002.

    Rautio said she learned of the fire engine controversy after a number of firefighters came to her and expressed concern about how the fire engines were paid for in the past.

    Following Thursday's meeting, Rautio explained why she needs answers.

    "I have serious concerns about why trucks were purchased and for which stations and when," she said. "I want to know if there's a fire truck missing or not. We need to very clearly identify the locations of every truck and apparatus."

    Once the fire commission meeting wrapped up, James Webb, the district's newly appointed fire chief, told the Daily News that he had no reason to believe that a fire truck has been lost or is missing.

    "There is not a fire engine that's missing that I'm aware of," he said. "We move engines around all the time and we paint engines."

    Rautio said she wants to make sure that the fire truck in question is not a "ghost truck."

    "I certainly hope that's not the case," she said. "I don't think it's reality but I want to be absolutely certain that an expert reviews and analyzes all appropriate documents."

    In other fire district-related action, commissioners consented for Cohen, the certified public accountant, to delve into a series of financial transactions from just before the time Tobin came on board with the district in 1997:

    n the financial transactions revolving around the initial employment contract between Tobin and the fire district;

    n the payments to Tobin of approximately $10,000 in 1998 concerning his decision to opt out of the district's retirement plan;

    n the movement of funds by Tobin between the retirement plan and the district's general fund;

    n reimbursement of education expenses;

    n credit card and debit card use within the district.

    Commissioners also adopted a new policy pertaining to reimbursement of educational expenses incurred by district employees.

    Under the new guidelines, staff would be required to pay for tuition in advance and would be fully reimbursed only upon successful completion of the program or courses.

    Employees also would only be reimbursed at the state community college rate regardless of the educational institution the individual attends. An employee who takes advantage of tuition reimbursement from the district will be expected to stay with the department for a minimum of 12 months to provide the district with the benefit of that individual's education.

    If an employee resigns or is terminated before the one- year period, he or she would be required to pay back any and all education reimbursement fees.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  8. #33
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    Post Employees Wife Takes Issue with Commission

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    NNFD: Employee's wife lashes out at officials, media in husband's defense

    Friday, March 14, 2003
    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


    Just days after details surfaced about a North Naples Fire District employee's extended vacation time, his wife showed up to a meeting to defend his honor.

    At Thursday's North Naples fire commission meeting, Diana Hansell, who is married to Bill Hansell, the district's ex-chief financial officer, lashed out at commissioners, district staff and the Daily News about what she called an unfair characterization of her husband.

    Hansell labeled fire commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio an "obsessive compulsive" and accused Becky Pogan, the current chief financial officer, of erring on payroll time sheets of Bill Hansell's accrued vacation. Bill Hansell didn't attend the meeting.

    "Either you're extremely inefficient or you're trying to screw me," Hansell said angrily.

    She also pointed at James Webb, the department's new chief, criticizing how Webb, in the past, had stayed at five-star hotels while attending out-of-town district-related conferences.

    Bill Hansell, a former deputy fire chief, took a pay cut in November when he accepted a job as a fire inspector with the district. Hansell's salary went from $72,350 to $54,779 a 24 percent decrease.

    At that time, Hansell also went on vacation and he's not expected back to work until May. District staff recently inspected Hansell's accrued paid time off and found he had 27 weeks of vacation time, four weeks of sick leave and seven weeks off to tend to personal business.

    An outraged Diana Hansell demanded for the fire commission to discipline Pogan, after accusing her of purposely reporting wrong information on Bill Hansell's time sheets.

    Pogan uncovered a 300-hour discrepancy in fire district records that would have given Bill Hansell an additional 7 weeks off from work, beyond his scheduled May return.

    Hansell pointed to one instance last fall when Pogan, at a public meeting, said she had double-checked payroll time sheets and had not found errors. Hansell also said she had observed Pogan retrieving public records from the fire station and taking the documents home.

    After the meeting, Pogan, who broke down in tears, defended herself.

    "I had said that I reviewed all union employees' time sheets," Pogan said. "Bill Hansell is not a union employee."

    Pogan added, "She (Hansell) accused me of taking documents home, but all I ever took home were computer printouts to review and I did that with the full knowledge of my supervisor (at the time) Bill Hansell."

    The Daily News also came under attack.

    Diana Hansell accused Daily News staff of having a personal "vendetta" against her husband and against Lisa Stefani, the district's executive assistant.

    Bill Hansell and Stefani are former allies of James Tobin, the district's former fire chief, who left his post Aug. 29 in exchange for a $300,000 severance package. A taxpayer lawsuit filed last year is blocking the district from paying Tobin the lump sum.

    Diana Hansell said a Daily News reporter and an editor were engaging in "a transparent attempt to discredit people," including her husband, Bill Hansell.

    Rautio came under fire as well, when Diana Hansell said the commissioner was obsessed with district-related matters.

    "I'm surprised at the depth of her attack on the district," Rautio said. "But much of (what Hansell talked about) fell under former chief Tobin's tenure."

    Hansell also blasted Webb, accusing him of making her pay for copies of a stack of public records requests she had made. Under Florida statutes, the district charges 15 cents per page for copies of public document requests.

    Hansell's invoice shows the district made 738 copies and, in addition, charged her $152.10 for 10 hours worth of administrative time at an hourly rate of $10. The total amount of the invoice is $262.80.

    Webb indicated that district staff handled Hansell's request as they do any other.

    "It was quite a stack of paperwork that (Diana Hansell) requested and we invoiced her," Webb said. "But, she's refused to pay for the documents."
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  9. #34
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    Post The controversy over questionable operations continues

    Naples Daily News

    North Naples Fire District travel payments to former employee examined

    Monday, March 17, 2003
    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com

    More than $2,300 of taxpayer money was utilized to pay for the round-trip airfare of a North Naples Fire District employee, whose wife was suffering from an illness in a Baltimore hospital three years ago, records show.

    Jeff Davidson was employed as the district's public information officer from Sept. 21, 1999, through Aug. 30, 2000, making an annual salary of $30,996.

    District records reveal that from Jan. 16 through March 18 of 2000, Davidson traveled to Baltimore five times for personal reasons with airline tickets totaling $2,390 that the taxpayer-supported district purchased.

    Department employees and two fire commissioners say they were aware that Davidson traveled to and from Maryland to tend to a family matter.

    The trips were taken with consent from and approved by then-chief James Tobin.

    But all-paid travel expenses weren't the only freebies Davidson acquired from the district.

    Records show that even while Davidson was away on personal time off, the district made exceptions for his absence, keeping him on the payroll.

    Davidson, who no longer resides in Collier County, could not be reached for comment.

    These business practices were common knowledge at the fire department.

    "I was told he would go back and forth between here and Baltimore to go stay with his wife who was in a hospital receiving treatment," said James Webb, the district's new fire chief, who at the time served as assistant chief.

    Ray Bass, who is Tobin's attorney, said fire commissioners were well aware that Davidson was traveling round-trip on a family matter because the board had OK'd those trips.

    "Every person on the board not only knew but approved (for Davidson) to have this time off," Bass said. "Davidson technically worked more than 40 hours a week and that's one of the reasons why the extra time off was given to him."

    At least two fire commissioners deny knowing that the district picked up the tab for Davidson's personal travel.

    Christopher Lombardo, fire commission chairman, said he had heard some murmur that Davidson traveled frequently "because of some kind of family issue."

    "I don't recall beyond that," he said. "I didn't deal with Jeff (Davidson) that often."

    Fire commissioner Steve Milligan said Tobin, at one time, told him that Davidson had to travel out of town to "check on his wife."

    "But I didn't know about the financial aspect of it," Milligan said. "I am concerned if it was unauthorized travel but until I know who it was and what it was, there's not much I can say. If it's something that's brought to our attention, then we'll address it."

    But last month, a local expert brought the issue to light.

    Stephen Cohen, a Naples certified public accountant, was hired by the district last fall to conduct an internal audit of the district's finances in the wake of Tobin's departure Aug. 29. On that day, Tobin agreed to leave his chief's post in exchange for a $300,000 severance package. A local government watchdog filed a lawsuit to block the district from paying Tobin all of the money and the case is tied up in Collier County Circuit court.

    At the Feb. 13 fire commission meeting, Cohen presented commissioners with his findings of the forensic audit of district records during the past three years.

    Among the items on Cohen's report was how Tobin would liberally allow a close-knit group of subordinates to spend taxpayer money freely.

    Cohen said his internal investigation revealed how Davidson would usually travel to Baltimore on a Thursday or Friday and return on a Sunday.

    "The question is whether (Davidson) was so necessary (at the district) that the chief (Tobin) felt it was appropriate to do that," Cohen said. "If the chief made a valued decision that (Davidson) was so important, who knows? That's the chief's job. The question is was (Davidson) necessary?"

    As the district's public information officer, Davidson was in charge of handling media interviews and inquiries.

    Retired assistant fire chief Ken Rodgers said Tobin instructed him to sign off on Davidson's time sheets and "he was adamant about it."

    "(Tobin) was giving (Davidson) time to take care of his problem," said Rodgers, speaking from his home in Homossassa Springs in Central Florida. "(Tobin) said 'Just write it down.' "

    Rodgers' signature appears on some of Davidson's time sheets, records show.

    "I didn't feel it was right," he said. "That's not the way business should be run. If you do it for one, you have to do it for everybody else. This isn't in the rules and regulations anywhere."

    Davidson's time sheets show that in 2000 he was frequently marked off for "administrative chief's leave" or ACL, which is supposed to be used at the chief's discretion, said Becky Pogan, the district's chief financial officer.

    "It's not used very often," she said. "This would be for something like if someone's house caught on fire, the chief might give them the day off or something."

    Bass, who represents Tobin, said Davidson wasn't the only district employee who was allowed to take "administrative chief's leave." There were a handful of others who also took advantage of that, he said.

    Linda Johnson, the district's fired bookkeeper, said Tobin ordered her to keep Davidson on the district's payroll and health insurance even after Davidson was long gone.

    "Tobin and Jeff Davidson were very tight," Johnson said. "(Davidson) was not traveling for fire department work. He was traveling for his wife's treatments and he was receiving full pay for that."

    Fire commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio, who joined the district after Davidson was no longer employed, said she will likely seek legal guidance on whether the district has a right to demand repayment of some of the costs.

    "Is there a statute of limitations? Can we make these individuals pay back the money?" she said. "It's a clear violation of policy and an apparent misappropriation of taxpayers' money."
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  10. #35
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    Post An Editorial

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS--EDITORIAL

    Editorial: North Naples Fire Department
    And now, a missing truck


    Friday, March 21, 2003
    The Naples Daily News

    We keep asking "what's next?" at the North Naples Fire Department as scandal after boondoggle is disclosed.

    Over the past two years we have seen reckless credit card spending, an aide doing the ex-chief's taxpayer-funded college homework, a secret meeting to craft a golden parachute for abusive and uneven official conduct, charity solicitations extending beyond the district, and even the hiring of an exotic-sounding "forensic CPA" to untangle the mess.

    What's next? Plenty.

    There are tax-subsidized trips for a firefighter to visit his sick wife in Baltimore, a demoted ex-aide to the ex-chief accumulating 27 weeks of vacation and sick time which would have expanded to more than 34 without a belated records check and now a missing fire truck.

    A missing fire truck.

    Fire board members could swear they bought two, at $350,000 and 40,000 pounds apiece, yet the in-house whereabouts of only one is known. Or perhaps fire board members are wrong, and are merely confused by the numbers painted on it. Or them.

    The whole, seemingly endless scenario would be funny if public tax dollars were not involved. There is evidence of public money going down the drain every time we turn around.

    The FBI, Sheriff's Office and State Attorney's Office and that "forensic CPA" have plenty of rocks to peer under as they continue their investigations.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  11. #36
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    Post Internal Audit Challenged

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS



    Naples front | Naples archive | help

    NNFD: CPA's internal investigation report challenged

    Wednesday, April 9, 2003
    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com

    Trouble is brewing once again at the North Naples Fire District.

    Some are questioning a report Stephen Cohen, a Naples certified public accountant, issued this year. Fire commissioners hired Cohen last fall for $14,500 to conduct an internal investigation of the district's finances.

    In February, Cohen presented his final report during a fire commission meeting. During that presentation, Cohen said former chief James Tobin had used taxpayer money to hold a Christmas party at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples.

    The Daily News has learned that information in Cohen's report about the Christmas party is incorrect, based on district records. District officials acknowledge that Cohen did not have such information when he was doing his report.

    The records reveal that department employees paid $60 each or $120 per couple to attend the Christmas event. Taxpayer money was not utilized to pay for that dinner, the records show.

    AT A GLANCE

    The North Naples board of fire commissioners is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 10 , at fire station No. 45 at Veterans Park off Immokalee Road.


    Two former district employees are challenging other findings in Cohen's final internal investigation report.

    One of them is calling for a formal revision of Cohen's findings before the document is sent to local, state and federal authorities.

    Linda Johnson, the district's former bookkeeper, who is mentioned in the report, is calling for a formal revision of the report before the document is released.

    "My biggest concern is that things that (Cohen) printed about myself were not in fact true," said Johnson, who was fired from the district by then-chief Tobin in August 2001. Johnson was later reinstated to her post as a bookkeeper and was allowed to retire from the district.

    Johnson wrote a letter, dated April 2, to fire commissioners Christopher Lombardo and Joyceanna "JA" Rautio, asking them to adjust, what she said, are errors that Cohen reported about her on the document.

    Johnson's letter is expected to be read into the record during Thursday's fire commission meeting.

    Items that Johnson is challenging on Cohen's report include a phone conversation between Cohen and Johnson. In his report, Cohen said Johnson had phoned him to give him information about the district. Johnson refutes this claim, saying it was Cohen who "called me on Sunday night to ask me questions." Johnson said Cohen called her on a Sunday night in late January during his investigation, which lasted from October through February.

    Tuesday, Cohen said he was "astounded" at Johnson's allegations that his report was inaccurate.

    "I'm not responding to Linda Johnson," Cohen said. "Who is she (Johnson) that she needs to have that letter clarified? Let her do whatever she wants. Whatever is in my report is absolutely correct."

    Cohen also advised a Daily News reporter not to call him again.

    Rautio said she wants clarification of Cohen's report.

    "I'm very concerned about the errors that I spotted on the report," she said. "I'm still waiting for information from Mr. Cohen."

    The FBI, State Attorney's Office and Collier County Sheriff's Office Economic Crimes Bureau Unit launched a probe of the fire district last fall and are continuing to investigate.

    Commissioners earlier this year agreed to send Cohen's report to the FBI, local prosecutors and Gov. Jeb Bush's office for review.

    Bill Ryan, a retired firefighter from the district and current chairman of the firefighters' pension board, said he considers "the whole report to be flawed."

    In the report, Cohen mentions Johnson and Ryan and other fire district personnel.

    "I asked (Cohen) why he singled me and Linda out as the two parties that called him," Ryan said. "(Cohen) said to me, 'You need to get yourself a life. You're only a taxpayer.'"

    Johnson said she wants to ensure the report is factual and correct before it goes to the authorities.

    "I would hope that any report and documentation filed would be true and factual and not misconstrued like the report that I received," she said.

    Johnson has asked the district and Rautio, who is the treasurer of the board, to "evaluate and adjust the ($14,500) fee that Mr. Cohen has charged. I do not feel the district would be obligated to pay for such errors that he quoted," the letter states.

    Becky Pogan, the district's chief financial officer, said Tuesday that Cohen did not have access to the information pertaining to the Ritz-Carlton Christmas party, which cost $1,320, because it was only recently that she learned those documents existed.

    "In all fairness to Cohen, he didn't have this information when he did his report," Pogan said. "We never knew it existed because we were never told."

    Pogan said the documents that showed employees had paid for the Christmas dinner surfaced after Cohen submitted the results of his report.

    Jerry Sanford, the district's public information officer, was the one who had organized the Christmas party and only he had those documents, Pogan said.

    Last month, fire Commissioner Steve Milligan pointed to a discrepancy in Cohen's report that states Milligan had attended "various programs" at a fire college in Ocala. The person who attended the conference was actually Ed Messer, a former fire commissioner.

    And Rautio said Cohen erred on something regarding her.

    In his report, Cohen stated Rautio had been a fire commissioner at the end of 2001. But Rautio joined the district on Jan. 17, 2002.

    Pogan said she notified Cohen about the errors and has asked for a revised copy of the internal report before it is sent to the authorities.

    During the March fire commission meeting, commissioners again retained Cohen for an additional $7,000 to examine the district's impact fee fund, after questions arose regarding the location of district fire engines known as No. 46 and other expenditures involving the fund.

    Pogan said Cohen is scheduled to begin the second internal probe this week, which covers the period from Jan. 1, 1997, through Sept. 30, 1999.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  12. #37
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    Post We Found the missing truck!!!

    Naples Daily News

    NNFD: Missing fire engine was never missing after all

    Friday, April 11, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com

    The month-long mystery of missing fire engine No. 46 has been solved.

    It turns out No. 46 was never missing after all.

    The North Naples Fire District can account for all 12 of its inventoried emergency vehicles currently in operation throughout the department's six fire stations, records show.

    During Thursday's fire commission meeting, commissioners sifted through a packet of information that detailed the name, identification number and location of each district apparatus.

    Though district records indicate that no apparatus is missing, new questions are being raised about another fire vehicle that officials believe was sold to a Nebraska fire department nearly four years ago.

    The North Naples district has obtained a copy of a receipt from the Alma, Neb., sheriff's office that reveals the district sold a 1988 fire truck to that town's fire department for $40,000 on Sept. 30, 1999.

    Who negotiated the deal or why Alma was selected is a mystery.

    Orly Stolts, the chief of operations for the North Naples Fire District, recently told the Daily News that he learned some time in 1999 that the Alma fire department needed a fire engine for their volunteer-run department. At the time, the North Naples district was looking to get rid of its 1988 fire truck, known as Pumper 43, because it had too many miles on it, said Stolts.

    Up until a few weeks ago, the district had no documentation pertaining to the sale of that fire engine.

    Fire Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio said she's concerned about how the transaction was handled.

    "Why was it sold?" Rautio asked after Thursday's meeting. "I should be able to know as a commissioner and a member of the public what happened and I don't. Apparently, I won't be able to find out."

    A $40,000 figure was agreed upon by district officials, according to Stolts, but he said he didn't recall who the officials were. He did say that Chris Becker, the Alma fire chief and sheriff at the time, was the point person on the deal.

    "We found out they needed a fire truck and we had one that had a lot of mileage so we sold it to them," Stolts recently told the Daily News. "They said they could use a fire engine up there for their volunteer fire department."

    Rautio said she can't comprehend why the district chose to sell the truck to Alma, which has a population of about 1,200 people.

    "You would think there's volunteer fire departments that are closer," she said. "How did they select Alma, Nebraska? Wasn't there a need closer to home?"

    Records show that the district did not have an invoice or receipt of the transaction of such a sale.

    At the request of the North Naples Fire District, Becker on March 24 faxed to Stolts a copy of the invoice showing the truck that the North Naples Fire District sold to Alma for $40,000.

    Most of the information on the invoice is typed, except for the vehicle identification number, or VIN, which was handwritten on the invoice along with another date of Oct., 12, 1999, records show.

    District records show that at the time the engine was sold to Nebraska, the apparatus had more than 125,000 miles on it. The engine's sister truck, which remains at fire station No. 45 and is used as a reserve vehicle, had at the time 90,000.

    The sister truck stationed at fire Station No. 45 at Veterans Park off Immokalee Road is used by firefighters for training drills, district officials said.

    James Tobin was the North Naples fire chief during the time the fire truck was sold to Nebraska.

    Meeting minutes from a board of fire commissioners meeting on Aug. 12, 1999, show the board "approved the sale of Pumper No. 43 for $40,000."

    What the minutes don't reflect is who brought up the matter before the board or who discussed the transaction. This week, the Daily News requested to inspect audio cassettes that would reveal what took place during that meeting. However, the tape shows that the portion of the meeting at which the board and district staff discussed the sale of the fire engine was blank.

    During Thursday's fire commission meeting, Paul Moriarty, the department's logistics officer, supplied commissioners with a complete packet of all inventoried fire engines, rescue trucks and reserve trucks housed across the department's six fire stations.

    Last month, Rautio questioned the purchases of two fire trucks known as "No. 46" and said she was concerned about whether both trucks were still at the district and what money was used to pay for the engines.

    During that meeting, rumors swirled about whether one of the No. 46 fire engines was actually a ghost truck.

    District staff said at the time that because fire trucks get repainted and renumbered on a regular basis, it was difficult to determine right away the history and location of the each vehicle.

    The issue prompted fire Chief James Webb to launch his own internal inspection of every apparatus within the district.

    In a report issued to the public Thursday, records show that all fire engines and vehicles at the district are accounted for.

    Moriarty, who made a full presentation Thursday, provided information about the location and VIN information of each district vehicle.

    Rautio said last month she was concerned about whether the fire department had misused the impact fee fund, which is designed to pay for capital assets such as equipment out of need for growth in the district.

    Per Florida law, the impact fee fund should not be used to replace equipment, Rautio contended.

    Recently, Webb told the Daily News that he couldn't confirm the method by which the fire engines at the district were paid for. Any financial transaction that took place involving fire engines did not involve Webb because he wasn't chief at the time.

    "We don't know whether it was purchased with the impact fee fund," Webb said. "But there is not a ghost engine. We didn't give one away. The engines are all here. Now, the funding source, we're not sure of."

    Here is a breakdown of the fire engines of the North Naples Fire District, which has six fire stations in the district:

    Station No. 40, at 1141 Pine Ridge Road;
    Station No. 42, at 7010 Immokalee Road;
    Station No. 43, at 16325 Vanderbilt Drive;
    Station No. 44, at 8970 Hammock Oak Drive;
    Station No. 45, at 1885 Veterans Park Drive;
    Station No. 46, at 3410 Pine Ridge Road.

    The district's six fire engines are stationed throughout fire stations Nos. 40, 42, 43, 44, 45, & 46

    Two ladder/tower trucks: one ladder is at station No. 40, one ladder is at station No. 44.

    Two rescue units: one at station No. 44; the other at station No. 45.

    Two pumpers: one at station No. 43 the other at station No. 45, which are reserve equipment.

    TOTAL: 12 vehicles

    HISTORY OF THE FIRE ENGINES
    Engine No. 40 at Station 40 is a 1998 fire truck that went in service June 8, 1998. It's primarily a pumping engine that has a water tank, pump and hose bed, with a 500-gallon water tank. When purchased, the engine was received with the lettering "No. 46," but was later moved to station No. 40 and is now "No. 40."

    Tower No. 40 at Station 40 is a 1983 ladder/tower with a pump, hose bed, an attached aerial ladder and a 250-gallon water tank. It was purchased in 1983 with the lettering "40" and went into service at station No. 41 but the number was kept at 40. In 1984, the truck was moved to Station 40. In April 1995, it went out of service because it was being refurbished and repainted. In November 1995, the engine returned to service but at station No. 44 and it was lettered "44." In 1998, the truck was moved to Station 40 and renumbered "40.''

    Engine No. 42 at Station 42 is a 2000 truck that went into service in 2000. It is equipped with a pump, hose bed and a 1,500-gallon water tank. It was purchased in 2000 and received as No. 42.

    Engine 43 at Station 43 is a 1996 telesquirt that went into service in 1996. It's a pumping engine with a pump and a hose and a 500-gallon water tank. When it was purchased, the truck was unlettered. When it went into service at Station 43, it was lettered No. 43.

    Pumper 43 at Station 43 is a 1987 pumper truck with a pump and a hose bed and has a 750-gallon water tank. It arrived at the district numbered as "40" and it went to station No. 40. In 1992, it moved to Station No. 44 and relettered as "44.'' In 1998, the truck was moved to station No. 43 and was renumbered to "43.'' Records show that the sister engine of this fire truck was sold to Alma Fire Department in Nebraska in 1999 for $40,000.

    Engine 44 at Station 44 is a 1998 pumping engine that has a pump, a house bed and a 500-gallon water tank. It was purchased in 1998 numbered "42'' and went into service at fire station No. 42. In 2000, it was moved to station No. 46 and renumbered as "46." In 2002, the truck was moved to station No. 44 and renumbered as "44.''

    Ladder 44 at Station 44 is a ladder/tower truck with a pump, hose bed and aerial ladder attached and has a 500-gallon water tank. It was received in 1998 numbered as "44.''

    Rescue 44 at Station 45 is a 1999 rescue vehicle manned as a life support unit with a 300-gallon water tank. It was purchased in 1999 lettered as "44'' and went into service at station 44. In January of this year, it was swapped with another rescue vehicle at Station 45 because of excessive mileage.

    Engine 45 at Station 45 is a 1998 pumping engine that has a pump, hose bed and a 500-gallon water tank. It was purchased in 1998 numbered as "45'' but was renumbered "44'' and was stationed at Station 44. In 1999, the truck was moved to Station 45 and renumbered "45.'' In September 1999, the truck was involved in an accident on Interstate 75 and went out of service for repairs. The engine returned to service in December 1999 at station 45.

    Pumper 45 at Station 45 is a 1992 telesquirt with a pump, hose bed and a 500-gallon water tank. It was received in 1992 without a number and was used at station 40 after it was numbered "40.'' In 1993, the truck was moved to Station 43 and given the number "43.'' In 1996, the engine went out of service for repainting and relettering. Later that year, the vehicle became No. 40 and was in service at Station 40. In June 2000, the engine was moved to Station 46 and renamed No. 46. In July 2000, it was moved to Station 40 and became No. 40. In April 2002, the engine was moved to Station 45 and renumbered "45."

    Rescue 45 at Station 44 is a 1999 rescue vehicle with a life support unit and a 300-gallon water tank. It was purchased in 1999 lettered "45'' and went into service at Station 45. In January 2003, it was swapped with Rescue 44 due to mileage.

    Engine 46 at Station 46 is a 2002 pumping engine with a pump and a hose bed and has a 750-gallon water tank. It was purchased in 2002 lettered as "46.'' It was not renumbered and went into service at Station 46.

    SOURCE: North Naples Fire District
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
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    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  13. #38
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    Default Accountant unplugs his calculator

    Naples Daily News

    NNFD: Accountant in charge of financial audit resigns; errors alleged
    Friday, April 11, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com

    An accountant who conducted a forensic audit of the North Naples Fire District's finances resigned Thursday amid heavy criticism from fire commissioners who say his report was extensively flawed.

    Stephen Cohen, a Naples certified public accountant, informed the district through a letter Thursday that he was severing all ties with the fire department.

    "I wish to resign this firm from the current engagement understanding," Cohen wrote. "There will be no bill rendered for the work to date."

    The fire district retained Cohen last fall, paying him $14,500 in taxpayer money to conduct a thorough audit of the past three years of the district's finances.

    A full-scale internal probe of district finances came about after details surfaced regarding expenditures within the agency during the time James Tobin was fire chief.

    Last month, Cohen was rehired for an additional $7,000 to conduct a similar audit of the department's impact fee fund and a more thorough investigation of the district's finances during the first two years of Tobin's tenure.

    In the letter, Cohen said he won't charge the district for the $7,000 for the second internal audit.

    Cohen's decision to resign came immediately after the five-member fire board criticized Cohen's internal investigation, pointing to various errors found in the report's final draft, which will be sent to local, state and federal authorities for review, but not before the alleged mistakes are corrected.

    "The report is replete with errors," Commissioner Ed Maguire said.

    Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio passed out a memo she wrote that outlined nine inaccuracies she said she found in Cohen's internal investigation report. This week, two former fire district employees complained that Cohen had misrepresented information about them in his report as well.

    "I do not want to submit this to anybody," Rautio said of the report. "I think it's outrageous. I do not wish to have this go on to the authorities. He's a forensic accountant who looks for errors and to make so many himself. We need to demand that this get fixed."

    Some of the errors , according to Rautio's memo, pertain to Cohen's recommendation in his final report that the fire district not permit any employee from taking business records home.

    "This is absurd and not per state (laws)," Rautio said.

    The most controversial item in Cohen's report pertained to a Christmas party Tobin and other department employees held at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, in December 2000.

    According to Cohen's report, the party was paid for with taxpayer money.

    District staff who attended the event deny taxpayer money funded the party, saying they each paid $60 per person or $120 per couple to attend.

    District records show that gathering cost $1,320 and was paid for by employees and district staff who attended. Records also reflect that $120 ended up missing after the money was turned over to Bill Hansell, the department's then-chief financial officer.

    "I remember I went with my wife and I remember paying for it," Maguire said. "It would've only taken (Cohen to make) a few phone calls on this" to verify the information.

    Rautio added, "For (Cohen) not to check this is absolutely outrageous."

    District staff acknowledged this week that Cohen was not privy to certain records that show taxpayer money didn't fund the party.

    Cohen insisted Thursday in his letter that the party was funded with taxpayer money.

    "I do repeat that the district paid for this private party and district funds were used and district time was expended in pursuit of the private party," Cohen wrote.

    Becky Pogan, the district's chief financial officer, telephoned Cohen at the request of fire commissioners during a meeting recess to request Cohen to attend the Thursday meeting.

    Cohen declined and instead faxed his letter of resignation to the district.

    Cohen also agreed to correct the final report "as soon as I can confirm whether or not all the money as claimed by certain employees was reimbursed to the district," he said in his letter.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  14. #39
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    Post No Psychological Evaluation

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    NNFD: Would-be fire chief applicants won't face psychological exam

    Friday, April 18, 2003
    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    Psychological testing won't be a requirement for future fire chief job applicants in the North Naples Fire District.

    Fire commissioners last week followed the recommendation of a four-member chief selection committee, which determined that psychological examinations would be unfair and unreliable for applicants vying for the position.

    The committee voted 3-1 against administering a cognitive test that would point to an applicant's personality on the job before that individual would be hired.

    "We came to an impasse and a vote of 3-1 in favor of leaving out a psychological exam," said Commissioner Henry Hamel, a member on the chief selection panel. "The issue is whether (the test) is important and reliable."

    The committee also recommended that, in the future, contenders for the chief's post who come from within the department be required to have served at least 15 years with the North Naples Fire District.

    Hamel said this added requirement would ensure no surprises to district employees.

    "Will he get along? Is he or she trustworthy?" Hamel asked. "We won't have to make a decision based on an interview or two. This person will have worked through his career."

    Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio agreed, saying psychological evaluations would limit the district in "its opportunity to choose somebody by requiring a psychological test."

    Commission Chairman Christopher Lombardo pointed to another aspect he considers pertinent when conducting job candidate screenings.

    "I think the most important part of checking someone is the references," he said. "I always worry about whether psychological testing shows anything anyway."

    James Webb was appointed to the fire district chief post in February, six months after he took over as interim chief. On Aug. 29, 2002, then-chief James Tobin resigned from the position in exchange for a $300,000 severance agreement, which the majority of fire commissioners awarded to Tobin. A taxpayer lawsuit filed in September is blocking the district from disbursing any of the money to Tobin. The case remains in Collier County Circuit court.

    During the last two years of Tobin's tenure, the district was embroiled in one controversy after another. Tobin acknowledged that he quarreled with the firefighters' union and admitted to harassing and retaliating against firefighters. His former administrative assistant has alleged that Tobin ordered her to do his college homework while he pursued a bachelor's degree.

    The district's then-chief financial officer also has said that Tobin instructed him to change Tobin's time sheets to reflect that Tobin was working when Tobin was on vacation.

    Last month, fire commissioners weighed in on whether the district should add psychological testing as part of a job candidate's requirement.

    At the time, Webb said he was concerned that such an exam would disclose medical or private information about a job applicant. Disclosing too much personal information about a person could have the potential for trouble down the road, Webb contended.

    In other fire commission news, Lombardo, the commission chairman, determined that Becky Pogan, the district's chief financial officer, had not erred when she uncovered a 300-hour discrepancy that inadvertently gave Bill Hansell, the department's ex-chief of finance, an additional 300 hours of vacation time.

    Diana Hansell, who is married to Bill Hansell, addressed commissioners in March and again last week and urged the board to take disciplinary action against Pogan.

    Lombardo said Pogan had done nothing wrong, after examining a packet of public records that showed the history of Bill Hansell's accrued time.

    Pogan contends she was merely doing her job.

    "I felt the board was supportive," she said. "I was pleased with that. I've really tried to do my job."

    A report released by the fire district shows vacation hours also were adjusted for six employees within the district, which has about 138 employees, Pogan said. Of the six employees, four of them had fewer vacation hours than they should have had. Of the other two, one had 13 additional hours and the other had about six.

    "We're talking about minor errors nowhere in the neighborhood of hundreds of hours," Pogan said.

    Bill Hansell, who stepped down as the chief of finance in November, accepted a job at the district as a fire inspector. He left on vacation in November and is scheduled to return to work in May, records show.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  15. #40
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    Default

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS


    Apparent computer glitch blamed in trashing of North Naples fire district e-mail

    Monday, April 28, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


    An apparent glitch in the North Naples fire district computer system trashed hundreds of e-mails earlier this month under the user name of an employee who has been on vacation for five months, a computer expert says.

    One day after a Daily News reporter requested to inspect the e-mails found under Bill Hansell's user name, hundreds of e-mails appeared in Hansell's computer trash bin.

    The Daily News requested to inspect district e-mails of Hansell and other current and former employees because the newspaper was looking into what happened when North Naples fire officials sold a truck to a Nebraska fire department in 1999 for $40,000.

    The notion that the district's computer system could be under siege by a hacker from an off-site location or by district employees prompted fire officials to take immediate action.

    Certified network engineers from Naples-based InfiNetwork, a business solutions company specializing in computer networking needs, were called in to decipher the problem, which occurred while Fire Chief James Webb was on vacation.

    "Our overriding concern was that the e-mails were in the trash bin and we wanted to take them all out of the trash bin and back into the mail status," said Becky Pogan, the district's chief financial officer.

    Between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on April 17, about 900 e-mails in Hansell's computer user name were trashed. Records show that a reporter began inspecting Hansell's e-mails at 2:40 p.m. that day, alongside Lynne Szatkowski, a fire department administrative assistant.

    The Daily News had visited the fire district one day earlier, on April 16, to begin reviewing Hansell's e-mail account. On that day, InfiNetwork representatives changed the password to Hansell's log in.

    Orly Stolts, chief of operations at the North Naples district, was in charge at the time. He said he called around to the district's five other fire stations to make certain that no employee had entered the system or tampered with it.

    Stolts said he was assured that no unauthorized person had accessed district computers.

    Webb, who became permanent fire chief earlier this year, said it is "purely coincidental" that the computer glitch occurred while a reporter and a district secretary were stationed at a department computer reviewing e-mail.

    "I'm very comfortable that there's no sabotage," Webb said. "We have an individual lock on the door where the (computer) server is. Only the four chiefs have a key to that room."

    Stephen Myers, president of InfiNetwork, and his technical support staff stepped in the day after the e-mails had been deleted to conduct an extensive investigation of the district's computer system.

    Myers couldn't say with absolute certainty what went wrong. Each district computer is set up for manual delete, which means a person would have to delete each e-mail from his or her basket manually. The computer doesn't automatically trash the documents, he said.

    "I don't know what caused the files to be deleted," he said. "It's my belief it was technical problems. I don't think it was a virus. I can't tell you why this stuff was deleted. I don't think it was malicious intent."

    Myers' technical expertise led him to believe, he said, that there is no possible way anyone, such as a computer hacker, could tap into district computers from a remote area.

    "There is no connectivity to the outside world," he said. "It's highly improbable this would happen. I don't want you to think that because (the Daily News) was here, the e-mails magically deleted."

    The computer glitch possibly stemmed from improper maintenance of the district's mainframe computer, Myers said. A multitude of errors within the internal computer system was located throughout the network, he added.

    "When we ran the integrity checks, we found thousands of errors (in the system)," Myers said. "As with any database, you need routine maintenance. It appears it had not been done in a long time."

    Hansell stepped down as the district's chief of finance and accepted a job as a fire inspector within the department in November. Days later, he left on vacation and hasn't returned.

    Hansell now is on sick leave until May 6, said Webb, the successor of ex-chief James Tobin, who left the department Aug. 29, 2002, under a cloud of controversy and with an approved $300,000 severance package.

    District staff recently inspected Hansell's accrued paid time off and found he had 27 weeks of vacation time, four weeks of sick leave and seven weeks off to tend to personal business. Pogan, the finance director, uncovered a 300-hour discrepancy in fire district records that would have awarded Hansell an additional 7 1/2 weeks off from work, beyond his scheduled May return.

    The fire department, which has been plagued by one scandal after another in the past couple of years, is now dealing with a likely computer fluke within its internal system, which is utilized by about 140 employees to communicate.

    Webb notified fire commissioners about the computer issue.

    Two commissioners said they believe the problem is under control and have no reason to worry about it being anything other than a technical difficulty.

    "I don't foresee any problems," Commissioner Steve Milligan said. "Sounds like a computer glitch. It happens every day where I work."

    Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio called the incident a "highly unusual circumstance" but added that "it doesn't appear to be anything activated by an individual trying to do something wrong or cover up something."

    "I don't believe there was anything shady about this," said Rautio, noting that in May 2002, she and then-chief Tobin were involved in "e-mail battles" because the former chief didn't allow her to have e-mail access.

    "I had serious concerns about deletions of e-mails (last year)," she said. "My request to the former chief (Tobin) to have an e-mail account created him major heartburn."

    Myers, the network engineer, is recommending the district add hardware and software to prevent future glitches.

    At Myers' suggestion, the district will purchase two managed switches, totaling $1,600, to monitor the internal system for errors. The district also will set up e-mail monitoring software to comply with Florida's public records law.

    The software program will cost about $1,900 and an additional $5,000 of manpower time to install, Myers said. The necessary switches will cost the district about $1,600.

    These steps will ensure that the fire department's computer system is error free and maintains a backup database at all times of every single e-mail, Myers said.

    Webb said he's comfortable with that.

    "I have a great deal of confidence that we have fixed the problem," Webb said. "We put software into the system and you can't delete things anymore."

    The computer error surfaced when the Daily News was looking into the September 1999 sale of the fire engine by the North Naples district to Alma, Neb., a town of about 1,200 people.

    Other than a faxed receipt that lists the engine's vehicle identification number and date of sale, there is little information about the sale of the fire truck to Alma.

    An audio cassette of a public meeting in 1999 at which fire commissioners discussed the sale of the engine is blank. A receipt faxed this past March by the local sheriff in Nebraska shows the district sold the fire truck for $40,000.

    Stolts, chief of operations at the North Naples district, has said the engine was sold to Chris Becker, an acquaintance of his. Becker served as Alma's fire chief and sheriff at the time of the sale.

    Stolts has said the truck was sold to Alma Fire Department, a volunteer-run agency, because Alma needed a fire engine and the North Naples district was looking to sell one of its trucks that had too much mileage on it.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  16. #41
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    Exclamation Chief wins a round!!

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    NNFD: Ex-chief wins legal victory in attempt to collect $300,000 severance

    Saturday, May 3, 2003
    By CHRIS W. COLBY, cwcolby@naplesnews.com


    A state appeals court Friday reversed a Naples judge's decision temporarily barring former North Naples Fire Chief Jim Tobin from collecting $300,000 in severance approved when he agreed to resign.

    But the written opinion from the Second District Court of Appeal doesn't mean Tobin can come to the fire district office next week and demand a check. The fire district is refusing to pay until the morass of litigation in Collier Circuit Court is clarified.

    North Naples resident Janet Vasey filed a lawsuit last year against Tobin and the fire district, asking Judge Ted Brousseau to withhold the severance money from Tobin. Vasey, a frequent critic of the fire district, argued the board violated state and federal law by accepting Tobin's resignation in exchange for $300,000. The board struck the agreement in a closed-door meeting with Tobin and his attorney.

    Tobin had been under fire for the last two years of his tenure. Criticism began with the discovery that the district had failed to keep a proper accounting of credit card expenditures Tobin insisted were business-related. The problems intensified as Tobin grew estranged from the rank and file within the department, culminating in a no-confidence vote by its firefighters union and Tobin's admission to 22 unfair labor practice charges.

    In a hearing last September, Brousseau granted a temporary restraining order barring the district from issuing the $300,000 check. The judge ruled Tobin could receive four months' severance pay based on his $94,000 annual salary. So far, Tobin has received $31,160.72 for the four months of severance, district spokesman Jerry Sanford said.

    But the appeals court, based in Lakeland, ruled Brousseau didn't make four findings of law necessary in granting the restraining order. At least two of those, and probably all four, would be crucial if the case comes up again before Brousseau, Ray Bass, Tobin's attorney, said Friday in response to the appeals court ruling.

    According to the higher court, state law says such a restraining order can't be granted if there's no "irreparable harm" by the action Vasey seeks to stop, the payment of the check. The court also said a restraining order can't be put into place if there is another "adequate remedy of law" to get the money back after it's paid.

    Despite the reversal, Vasey's lawsuit remains alive and well because the underlying arguments have yet to be ruled upon. So there's no irreparable harm that would necessitate the restraining order, and her suit is the legal process for Vasey to try to keep the money away from Tobin, Bass argued.

    Vasey's attorney, Fred Hardt, had argued the appeals court should uphold Brousseau's ruling because the fire district, not Tobin, was the target of the injunction, and the district didn't oppose the request.

    But the appeals court cited case law that says a person whose rights and interests are to be affected by such a restraining order is a "necessary party to the action."

    "Because Tobin objected to the entry of the injunction, the circuit court was required to make the required findings supporting injunctive relief, and it erred in failing to do so," according to the written opinion.

    Hardt said he hasn't decided yet whether to ask for another hearing before Brousseau on the temporary restraining order. In Hardt's view, the appeals court decision is moot because the majority of fire district commissioners are unwilling to approve payment of Tobin until all the legal wrangling is settled.

    "At this point, the fire district is going to have to decide what to do ... whether to pay him the money or not," Hardt said. "I would hope the fire district would realize the claims made by Ms. Vasey are valid and would try to set the (severance agreement) aside and save the taxpayers $300,000."

    If Hardt asks for a hearing, the case goes back to Brousseau to rule on whether Vasey's request meets the necessary findings of law. Bass had asked the appeals court to dismiss her request outright "because the evidence shows she's not entitled to relief."

    "And I think the judge will rule that way," Bass said. "I think it's clear there's an adequate remedy of law, and the judge pretty much said that on the record."

    The judge's statements in court last September made clear that, while he felt the request for the restraining order had cleared its initial hurdle, the underlying issues in the lawsuit may have trouble standing up to legal scrutiny.

    In keeping with that, Bass will file a request asking the judge to dismiss the entire suit. He'll argue the agreement between commissioners and Tobin was legal, and Vasey doesn't have legal standing to challenge it. Bass insists Vasey can challenge the commissioners' actions by voting against them, not by filing a lawsuit.

    Meanwhile, Tobin has his own lawsuit pending against the fire district, seeking payment of the $300,000. And there is a pending motion to dismiss Vasey's suit. A May 12 hearing before Brousseau is scheduled.

    So as a result of all the litigation bouncing around the courthouse, Tobin's money isn't coming from the district anytime soon, both sides' attorneys agreed.

    "We've already asked for that, and they're not paying it," Bass said.

    The basis of Vasey's complaint is the severance to Tobin violates a state law prohibiting "extra compensation" to people after a contract has been executed. Hardt argued Vasey has standing as a North Naples resident to challenge payments of taxpayer money that are illegally disbursed.

    At his salary, the contract is "clear and unambiguous" that Tobin's entitled to no more than $31,094, Hardt argued. Tobin's contract as an employee was executed and his services as chief rendered, so the extra money would qualify as an unconstitutional expenditure of public funds, money Vasey helps provide as a taxpayer in the fire district.

    But Bass argued the commissioners agreed upon a certain severance as a buyout of Tobin's remaining four years under the contract, and its public vote sealed the deal. The board, in a nutshell, paid money to get rid of Tobin, who resigned only because of the severance, Bass said.

    The judge said if the case moves to a greater examination of the evidence, the court will look at what the commissioners had in mind when they approved the severance. Perhaps the commissioners considered the costs of trying to forcibly remove Tobin from his job, Brousseau said. And maybe the board decided to approve the $300,000 severance as a sort of quid pro quo that would establish a clean break, the judge said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  17. #42
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    Cool Yo' Captstanm1................

    Keep us in the loop on this story. It's better than Springer.

    There's one thing I hate more than Commissioners that want to meddle in the department operations, and that's Commissioners who don't keep tight control of the finances, and then want to point fingers at employees for financial disasters.

    FG
    IACOJ.... "Carpe Elkhartem"
    (Seize the Nozzle)


    "Victorious warriors win first,
    and then go to war,
    while defeated warriors go to war first,
    and then seek to win."

    SUN TZU

  18. #43
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    Post The Controversy Continues

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    North Naples fire commissioner says shift in legal strategy came without her knowledge

    Monday, May 19, 2003

    By CHRIS W. COLBY, cwcolby@naplesnews.com


    The North Naples fire district's opposition to a resident's lawsuit halting payment of $300,000 in severance to a controversial former fire chief has angered a fire commissioner, who says a unanimous vote approving the shift in legal strategy happened without notice to anyone.

    A 4-0 vote at a Nov. 14 fire board meeting authorized John Cardillo, the fire district attorney, to file court papers seeking dismissal of resident Janet Vasey's lawsuit in Collier County Circuit Court. Vasey filed the suit to prevent the district from paying Chief James Tobin severance agreed to by board members.

    And six months later, until a few days ago, that vote was news to Fire Commissioner Joyceanna "J.A." Rautio, an outspoken critic of Tobin and her fellow commissioners. She had just left the meeting when the vote took place.

    "Isn't it fascinating it was during the 27 minutes I was not at the meeting?" Rautio said. "This just absolutely floors me, especially since I've been asking them what's happening with the lawsuits, what's going on, what the facts are, where they were going with it."

    But the board's attorney and several commissioners said Friday the vote was legal and proper because it came during a public meeting. And they said Rautio had ample opportunity to learn about district's new position by reading the meeting minutes and through conversations with the attorneys handling the case on behalf of the fire board, who with Tobin is a defendant in the suit.

    The vote represented a significant change in strategy by the commissioners, who to that point had publicly said and even voted to not take a position on Vasey's suit. They wanted a judge to decide whether its Aug. 29 approval of a $300,000 severance package to Tobin was legal. The money was approved to Tobin if he agreed to resign.

    In her suit, Vasey argued the severance violates several state laws. And in a hearing in September, attorney Chris Marsala, who represented the fire district in the matter, said the board was content asking the judge to step in because commissioners didn't know for certain whether their actions were legal.

    The unanimous Nov. 14 vote changing that course came during what appeared as an impromptu update on the lawsuit by John Cardillo, the board attorney. Transcripts of the meeting show that during the public comment portion of the agenda, Cardillo argued the commissioners should oppose the suit. He said he hadn't had "opportunity to talk to you about it," but the suit was Vasey's way of saying the board has no power to make its own decisions.

    Commissioners J. Christopher Lombardo, Harry Hamel, Steve Milligan and Edward Maguire agreed and voted accordingly.

    Rautio says the vote was improper because the topic never appeared on that meeting's agenda. She had attended most of the meeting and left for a personal obligation 27 minutes before the meeting ended. She says such a significant change in strategy for such an important issue should have prompted the commissioners to give the public notice of the discussion.

    "They haven't brought it up since. It's been hidden," Rautio said. "I'm not pleased because Cardillo is truly working to get Tobin his money."

    She says Cardillo and Tobin are well known to be friends, insinuating Cardillo is looking out for the best interests of Tobin, not of Cardillo's client, the North Naples Fire and Control District. Cardillo's law firm also represented Tobin and Milligan during a state ethics commission probe.

    Cardillo said Friday the vote didn't have to be noticed to the public because it pertains to the board's position on pending litigation. The board has scheduled a closed-door litigation strategy session for Wednesday. The court papers Cardillo filed after the Nov. 14 meeting argue Vasey, a frequent critic of the district, has no standing to challenge the severance deal and fails to state a claim for which a court can grant any redress.

    Cardillo stands by the arguments he made during the November meeting.

    "I think the board needs to take a position when it's being sued. Otherwise you'd have people suing them all the time," if the board left every legal issue up to a judge to decide without fighting the suit, Cardillo said.

    Maguire, who was then chairman of the fire board, said the vote was proper because it took place in a public meeting. Also, the original decision to not take a position on the Vasey suit was a mistake, Maguire said. It came among a group of six similar items voted on at once. Maguire said he should have made the Vasey lawsuit its own agenda item for separate discussion.

    Milligan said he struggled to the remember the details of the vote from six months ago. But he pointed out the vote was 4-0, so Rautio's lack of participation wasn't a deciding factor.

    "I don't think it would have made a difference if she was there or not," Milligan said.

    Lombardo, who is an attorney, said a public body's strategy in handling litigation against it can often become a legally sticky situation.

    "My attitude was, if (Cardillo) thinks there should be a change in strategy, then there should be a change in strategy," Lombardo said. "But we can re-address it and put it on an agenda for more discussion if she wants to."

    Lombardo said Rautio is making too big a deal out of a motion to dismiss, something he described as "a non-event" because they rarely determine the outcome of a civil suit. And in this case, two hearings for a judge to decide the motion were canceled, so nothing has been done that can't be taken back.

    Fred Hardt, an attorney representing Vasey, had no comment on this latest issue arising from the suit. Ray Bass, an attorney representing Tobin, said the district was acting properly in siding against Vasey.

    "There's no way they can say they shouldn't pay. That was the deal they made," Bass said.

    Earlier this month, a state appeals court reversed Judge Ted Brousseau's decision temporarily barring former chief Tobin from collecting $300,000 in severance approved when he agreed to resign.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
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    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  19. #44
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    Post Ex-Chief Wants his money

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    Ex-fire chief's attorney tells district half of client's severance payment is overdue

    Tuesday, May 20, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    It's time for the North Naples Fire District to pay up the first half of the $300,000 lump sum the department owes former chief James Tobin.

    That is the contention Naples attorney Ray Bass has made to lawyers for the fire district, urging the district's legal counsel to pay Tobin the first $150,000 installment that Bass negotiated for Tobin last year in a closed-door meeting during which the then-chief agreed to leave the fire district.

    Recently, the Second District Court of Appeal lifted a temporary block on the $300,000 that previously prevented the fire department from cutting Tobin a check for the first $150,000 payment, originally due Tobin on Oct. 1, 2002.

    Time is up and the district is in breach of contract, Bass maintains.

    "It's time to pay," he said. "(The district) is taking the same position we are, so why don't they pay? There's no further legal impediment to pay. Either pay (Tobin) or reinstate him as chief."

    In a May 16 letter addressed to attorneys for the district, Bass said fire commissioners no longer have a reason not to pay Tobin.

    "I believe that the board majority was acting in good faith and legally correct when it made the employment deal with Tobin," the letter stated. "Remember, Tobin was not asked to resign. His job was not on the line when the deal was made."

    The majority of fire commissioners awarded Tobin the $300,000 severance payout Aug. 29, 2002. Following the decision, Janet Vasey, a local government watchdog, filed a lawsuit against Tobin and the district, alleging that the agreement violated state public meeting laws and therefore should be considered null and void.

    Per the agreement, the second $150,000 installment would be handed to Tobin on Oct. 1 of this year.

    Attorneys for the fire district filed an Oct. 9 response to Vasey's suit which, according to Bass, takes the same position as Bass.

    According to the response filed by fire district attorney John Cardillo, Florida law "authorizes the North Naples Fire District to settle any possible claims against the fire district and therefore authorized the ($300,000) settlement agreement in question."

    Bass said the district's legal firm has sided with Tobin all along.

    "The defense they raised to Vasey's claim is that the district is authorized by law to pay Tobin," he said.

    At least one fire commissioner said Monday that the fire district should keep its promise to Tobin and issue payment on the $300,000 severance deal.

    "I think the decision was made to give to (Tobin) this," commissioner Steve Milligan said. "We committed ourselves to buy out his contract. That was what the agreement was. I think that's the way the courts will be going too."

    Fire commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio said the Vasey lawsuit is pending, therefore Tobin should absolutely not get the money.

    "No, I don't think it's time to pay up," she said. "The judge has not ruled on the merits of the lawsuit."

    Christopher Marsala, an attorney representing the fire district, said the issue is not clear-cut. Fire commissioners still need to consider how they want to handle the case.

    "If they decide that the best option is to pay (Tobin) and that the best way to go is to pay him, it would probably be put on the agenda for the next (fire commission) meeting," Marsala said.

    The five-member board of fire commissioners is expected to go into a closed-door strategy meeting Wednesday to discuss how to proceed with the legal wrangling that has plagued the district for the past nine months since Tobin left his post.

    In a response letter dated Monday, Marsala notified Bass of the litigation session Wednesday.

    "You should know that no official action can be taken at the litigation strategy session," Marsala's letter read. "Any official action that the board decides to take will have to be done at the June meeting which you are welcome to attend."

    Marsala insisted Monday that the fire district has not taken a position with regard to the Vasey lawsuit.

    "I don't know that we've taken a position," he said. "I don't think we've taken a position."

    Bass vehemently disagrees.

    "They have taken the same position in the lawsuit that we have," Bass said. "They say that Vasey's claim is invalid. The only legal excuse they were raising was the temporary injunction. That's been lifted so the district should pay."

    Marsala declined to comment on the strategies that his legal firm will suggest to the fire district Wednesday, saying, "I don't feel we should discuss this before we discuss it with our client."

    Becky Pogan, the district's chief of finance, said Monday that the fire department has not been instructed to make out a check payable to Tobin.

    "We have not received any request for payment nor any direction from anyone to pay him," Pogan said.

    The closed-door meeting with fire commissioners and the department's legal counsel this week will not be open to the public.

    Florida's public meeting laws permit fire commissioners to meet in a closed-door session so long as the issue involves active litigation pertaining to the fire district, Marsala noted
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  20. #45
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    Post Another Officer Under Scrutiny...

    This is relating to the assistant chief, but his absence mysteriously started when the Chief was dismissed.

    _________________
    Naples Daily News

    North Naples fire official could get more time off from work

    Sunday, May 25, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    A veteran North Naples Fire District official who has been on an extended vacation for six months has filed a worker's compensation claim, which, if granted, would provide the employee with additional paid time off.

    Bill Hansell, the district's former deputy fire chief and finance director, filed the claim April 21, more than five months after he left on vacation and took personal time off, district records show.

    Fire Chief James Webb said Hansell submitted three doctor's notes from a Cape Coral-based physician who confirmed Hansell was ill.

    "He's on a bona fide sickness," Webb said. "He has satisfactorily met the requirements to be out on sick time. I'm concerned for Bill's health. If he's not healthy, I can sympathize with that."

    Florida law and privacy issues forbid Webb from releasing information about Hansell's medical condition.

    District records show Hansell originally had 27 weeks of vacation time, four weeks of sick leave and seven weeks of personal time, which add up to about 8 1/2 months of paid time off for a single employee of the taxpayer-funded fire department.

    Earlier this year, Becky Pogan, the fire department's new finance director, uncovered a 300-hour discrepancy, or 7 1/2 weeks of paid vacation time, which was incorrectly awarded to Hansell at one time before Pogan joined the district.

    Once the administrative error was fixed, Hansell was left with 300 fewer vacation hours, records show.

    It's not clear when Hansell will go back to work. His 20-year anniversary with the fire department is in October.

    "There's no indication when Bill is able to return to work," Webb said. "He's in such a state that he cannot do light duty or full duty so he's unable to return to work."

    Hansell was not available for comment.

    Hansell submitted doctor's notes from Richard Torricelli, a Lee County physician, who provided notes on three separate occasions: March 6, April 8 and May 2, records show.

    If Hansell were to be awarded worker's compensation benefits, not only would he be receiving payment for being out of work, he also would recoup the paid sick time he has already taken, Webb said.

    FCCI Insurance Co. in Sarasota is the agency handling Hansell's claim.

    Though the company would not disclose details relating to Hansell's particular case, officials offered an explanation of how insurance adjusters investigate a claim.

    In order for an employee who files a claim to start receiving benefits, the company thoroughly investigates the incident to determine whether the injury or illness at stake was caused from a work-related incident.

    "There are guidelines," said Teresa Geib, an insurance customer service representative. "(The company) would do an interview with the employee and the employer to see if this happened on the job. It would be a red flag if they've been on vacation.

    "(The employee) needs to report an injury right away. Even if they were injured on the job and they didn't say anything, it would cause any employer to be suspicious because they want you to report it right away," Geib added.

    Records indicate that Hansell did not report any work-related injuries before he left on vacation.

    Hansell stepped down as chief of finance in September and became the district's chief of administration. Two months later, he accepted a position as a fire inspector, though he was not state certified at the time to work as such.

    As a fire inspector, Hansell's job entails working in the field, checking on new or existing buildings and verifying that the structures have met the proper life safety codes, Webb said.

    Hansell has not yet completed the required training to become a certified fire inspector, according to Webb. Hansell had been expected to complete some fire inspector courses at the Florida State Fire Academy in Ocala but he did not finish those, Webb said.

    By switching job posts in November, Hansell's annual salary dropped more than $17,500 from $72,349.60 to $54,778.87.

    If Hansell decided to retire from the fire district, he would be eligible for group medical insurance coverage for himself and his family, records show. He also has a retirement plan with the Florida Retirement System.

    Throughout his career, Hansell worked alongside firefighters and many longtime district staff, including former Chief James Tobin, who left the fire department Aug. 29 under a cloud of controversy.

    Last fall, Hansell told the Daily News how Tobin had ordered him to alter Tobin's payroll timesheets to show that Tobin was working when he was really on vacation. Hansell also has said Tobin instructed him on a few occasions to spy on members of the firefighters' union, who Tobin accused of accessing pornography on the Internet.

    Webb said this week that all communication he's had with Hansell has been either through Hansell's attorney, Neil Chonin from Miami-Dade County, or in the form of a doctor's note.

    Fire district staff reviewed Hansell's personnel file and found one other worker's compensation claim filed October 28, 1999. However, staff was not able to locate a copy of the claim form, said Lynne Szatkowski, a fire department administrative assistant.

    Controversy surrounding Hansell arose just a couple of weeks after he went on vacation last fall.

    District records show that Hansell, a former Tobin ally, inappropriately utilized the district's America Online Internet account for personal use by accessing the account days after he went on vacation.

    The district uses the AOL account to access the Internet and communicate via e-mail with vendors, Webb said.

    Records also reveal how Hansell, two months after stepping down as chief of finance, "removed financial notes from (his) office in administration and place them in (his) new office in fire prevention," a memo from Webb addressed to Hansell states.

    Webb maintains that those financial records "were to have been turned over" to Becky Pogan, who became chief of finance Sept. 5.

    A list of documents found in Hansell's office shows at least some of the district records Hansell kept in his possession:


    Financial audits from 1997-2001

    Faxes to attorney regarding policies

    the uniform procedures manual

    Employee health benefits

    1999 Florida Statutes

    Public records requests and Florida statutes

    Public records handbook

    Budgets from 1998-2002

    Resolutions

    Report of the Auditor General

    Fire commission board meeting packets
    The Daily News inspected Hansell's personnel file and found a written warning issued to Hansell by Webb, the fire chief, stating that Hansell was on vacation in December, yet he logged onto the taxpayer-paid Internet connection system on Dec. 2, 9, 22, 26, 31 and Jan. 3, a district memo reveals.

    A handwritten note by Webb appears in Hansell's employee file.

    "Bill was using this account at home but the district did not have the password," Webb wrote.

    On Jan. 22, Webb issued Hansell a notice of possible disciplinary action, stating that Hansell had violated his administrative duties and responsibilities by not making reports available "to the chief's office and all other branches fully advised."

    Hansell also was reprimanded for "possible violation of general conduct."

    According to the notice, Hansell "did not divulge the password to the district's AOL account" after Hansell "was removed from the position of chief financial officer."

    Days after Hansell received the notices, he and his then-legal counsel, Naples attorney Lee Hollander, met in the district's administrative offices with Webb and other district personnel, records show.

    In the Feb. 14 meeting, Hansell stated he "checked the e-mail a few times," but said he had "my own accounts at home."

    " ... I have my own AOL account at home. I have no need for the department account," Hansell said, according to meeting transcripts.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
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    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  21. #46
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    Post Details of Sale of Fire Truck

    Naples Daily News

    Details emerge in sale of North Naples fire engine

    Tuesday, May 27, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


    New information has surfaced pertaining to the 1999 sale of a North Naples Fire District engine purchased by a small fire department in the Midwest.

    Orly Stolts, the district's deputy chief of operations, said he has obtained more information concerning negotiations on the sale of the fire truck, which sold for $40,000.

    At the time, fire officials say, the North Naples Fire Department was looking to get rid of the apparatus because it had too much mileage and no longer met national standards.

    In the wake of questions being raised about the lack of a paper trail or other documentation showing how the sale was negotiated, Stolts stressed the transaction was "not unusual" but "actually a positive thing for our fire district."

    The apparatus, a 1987 E-One engine, was sold to Alma, Neb., a town of about 1,200 people, on Sept. 30, 1999, district records show.

    "It doesn't make any difference where we sell a fire truck to as long as we get the money," Stolts said. "I feel it was an excellent opportunity for the district to get some more money in."

    During the past two years, the North Naples Fire District has been under intense scrutiny concerning the administration of the department's ex-chief, James Tobin, who left his post Aug. 29, 2002, under a cloud of controversy.

    Stolts said the district actually benefited from selling the truck to Alma because the engine had too many miles on it and a Bradenton-based businessman had offered North Naples only $25,000 in trade-in value for the truck.

    Records show the truck, at the time it was sold, had more than 125,000 miles on it.

    By selling the truck, known as Pumper No. 43, to the Alma department, the district made $15,000 more than the trade-in offer made by Ten-8 Fire Equipment, the Bradenton company, Stolts said.

    Stolts explained that he negotiated the sale of the truck with a longtime acquaintance of his in Nebraska from Stolts' hometown.

    "If I had to do it over again, I would do the same thing," Stolts said. "I'd sell the truck to my mother if she had the cash. We got $15,000 more for the truck. I see that as a good thing."

    Stolts said the used truck not only had too many miles but no longer met standards set by the National Fire Protection Association.

    Getting rid of the engine was the best decision, he said.

    "All fire trucks had to have a complete enclosed cab or compartment," Stolts said. "That truck didn't have that."

    Fire commissioner Christopher Lombardo said he doesn't consider unusual the fact that the truck was sold to a town in Nebraska.

    "You could sell a truck to somebody in Latin America," he said. "If Orly (Stolts) had someone who was willing to pay $40,000, then kudos to (Stolts).

    "My attitude is if you have someone who wants the truck for $40,000, it doesn't matter if it was to Nebraska or Hawaii. I'm just not that alarmed by this," Lombardo added.

    Chris Becker was Alma's fire chief and sheriff and Stolts' longtime acquaintance who phoned Stolts sometime in May 1999 and advised Stolts that he was looking for a used fire engine, Stolts said.

    Reached in Alma, Becker gave his version of how the sale of the truck was negotiated.

    "We needed a second truck, so I called Orly (Stolts) to see what he knew," said Becker, who now is Alma's sheriff and a volunteer firefighter. "The $40,000 (price tag) came from Orly. I thought it was reasonable. It was a nice truck for us to get a hold of."

    Becker said his volunteer-run fire department in Alma invested an additional $15,000 in making improvements to the used truck, which was sold green, but later painted red.

    The used truck also received new hoses and tires, noted Becker, who said he met Stolts about 14 years ago.

    Recently, however, Stolts and a retired North Naples assistant chief shared conflicting accounts of how the sale of the fire truck was negotiated and the engine ended up in Alma.

    Stolts maintains that ex-fire chief James Tobin did not have a role in the sale of the truck and that neither Becker nor anyone from Nebraska traveled to Collier County to inspect the truck before it was sold.

    But retired Assistant Chief Ken Rodgers, who left the district last summer, offered a different version.

    "Tobin made the final decision whether we were going to sell the truck or not," said Rodgers of Homosassa Springs, north of Tampa. "I didn't see anything wrong with it. I think it was just a situation that Orly knew this man in Nebraska. It's nothing unusual for a fire department to sell a piece of apparatus."

    Stolts said, "I don't think (Tobin) had a role in this. Chief Rodgers was the go-between guy. Tobin didn't decide. The board of (fire) commissioners decided."

    Before the negotiations on the truck were final, Stolts said he sent some glossy photographs of the truck to Becker to review.

    Rodgers said someone from Alma visited the North Naples department around that same time to "inspect the truck."

    "Orly (Stolts) said that this man was the sheriff and that he was with the fire department," said Rodgers, adding that he could not recall the man's name. "He may have stayed at Orly's house."

    Stolts denied this, saying no one from the Alma department had visited the North Naples fire district. It was actually one of Stolts' cousins who dropped by for a visit, Stolts said.

    Records show a check for $40,000 was deposited into the district's general fund in October 1999, a few weeks after the truck was sold to Alma.

    Though fire commissioners in 1999 approved the sale of the truck, little information was kept in district records.

    The minutes from that commission meeting are vague. An audiocassette of an August 1999 meeting at which commissioners gave the nod to sell the engine for $40,000 is blank, district records show.

    Current North Naples Fire Chief James Webb said he doesn't consider the blank tape incident a "conspiracy" of any kind, but an indication of something else.

    "I see that as poor business practices," Webb said. "It's an indication of sloppiness and a coincidence. I have no reason to believe that this was done deliberately. I tend to believe it was a technical glitch."

    Webb noted that, in addition to keeping audiotapes of the meetings, the fire district pays a court reporter also.

    Lombardo assured he was certain that whatever was discussed at that meeting was nothing out of the ordinary.

    "If there was something shocking that was said at that meeting, I probably would recall it," he said. "There was nothing that stuck out in mind. I don't have any recollection of anything outrageous happening."

    Joyceanna "JA" Rautio, another fire commissioner, said she's concerned about the transaction for other reasons.

    "My concern focuses on how the decision may have been made," shesaid. "Was there not a fire department closer than Alma, Nebraska that could've purchased this truck?"

    Rautio also noted she was satisfied that new details pertaining to the sale of the truck have surfaced, though she cautioned she plans to keep a close eye on district documents.

    "I'm pleased to be advised that more information on the sale is coming forward and that it would appear (the sale) was a friendly gesture to the great state of Nebraska," she said.

    "In the future, there will definitely be much more documentation on any type of sale. You can be assured that while I'm a fire commissioner, this type of thing will get tight scrutiny," Rautio added. "The fact that the tape is blank makes me very suspicious."
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
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    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  22. #47
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    Exclamation GOP Committee To Investigate Fire Department

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    GOP Executive Committee appoints committee to examine North Naples Fire District

    Tuesday, June 3, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


    Affirming a pledge to honest government, Collier County's Republican Party leader took steps Monday night toward confronting the continuing conflicts surrounding the North Naples Fire District.

    Mike Carr, chairman of the county's Republican Executive Committee, appointed three people to serve on an ad hoc committee that will attempt to tackle the continuing chaos in the aftermath of James Tobin's exit as fire chief.

    "There's been serious problems with former Chief Tobin," Carr said. "It's like a continuing scandal. It's going on forever."

    The local GOP is unhappy with the current fire board's handling of the continuing conflicts. Carr recently said the GOP's objective was to ensure that four of the five North Naples fire commissioners do not achieve re-election. Three fire commissioners, Ed Maguire, Steve Milligan and Henry Hamel, are up for re-election in 2004. Commission Chairman Christopher Lombardo was re-elected in November and is serving a four-year term.

    Joyceanna "JA" Rautio, a longtime, outspoken Tobin critic, was the only North Naples fire commissioner who attended Monday night's GOP meeting, which drew an array of county leaders. Carr, who has praised Rautio's efforts to fight for the rights of citizens, said Rautio is the only fire commissioner who should remain in office.

    The newly appointed ad hoc committee is made up of GOP members Janet Vasey, Tom Cannon and Chuck McMahon. The committee will be given the task of designing a plan to address the problems plaguing the fire district nine months after Tobin left his post.

    Cannon is fire commission chairman of the East Naples Fire District, McMahon is commission chairman for the Golden Gate Fire District, and Vasey is a community activist who is currently suing the North Naples Fire District.

    The panel will focus on ways the GOP should proceed with relation to the fire district. Among the tasks assigned to the panel were:


    To prepare an agenda, including speakers for the September GOP Executive Committee meeting dealing with Tobin and to make recommendations concerning the North Naples fire commissioners;

    To invite all of the North Naples fire commissioners to be heard at the September meeting;

    To prepare a proposed resolution and response to the problems created by Tobin;

    To present the proposed solution to the GOP Executive Committee board prior to the September meeting;

    To develop a pledge of honest government "that places the concerns of the citizens ahead of self enrichment as a requirement for support from the Republican Party candidates for the fire commission or other positions."
    Vasey, who attended Monday night's meeting, commended Carr's initiative.

    "I think the Republican Party wants to see quality people run for office," she said. "This is a step in the right direction. We'll look to see what we can do to get responsible people in those positions."

    Vasey is suing the fire district and Tobin because the majority of fire commissioners awarded Tobin a $300,000 severance payout Aug. 29, 2002, in exchange for Tobin's resignation.

    Though the lawsuit remains in litigation, a recent decision by the 2nd Court of Appeal lifted a temporary block that was placed on the money last fall, preventing the district from issuing Tobin the first $150,000 lump sum installment. While attorneys for the fire district and Tobin continue a legal battle, Tobin has yet to receive any of the $300,000.

    Maguire, Milligan and Hamel voted in favor of awarding Tobin the large payout.

    The fire district has been under intense scrutiny and criticism for more than two years after a Daily News investigation revealed how Tobin allegedly used district credit and debit cards for personal use.

    Last fall, the FBI, State Attorney's Office and Collier County Sheriff's Economic Crimes Unit stepped in to investigate the fire district. Recently, questions have surfaced about whether the district during Tobin's tenure improperly used the impact fee fund to buy replacement items. The impact fee account is designed to make purchases on apparatus and equipment as a result of growth.

    Carr recently noted how, in the wake of so much controversy regarding the fire district, North Naples taxpayers were worried about their fire service and safety.

    Before Monday night's meeting got under way, Rautio said she wanted to assure North Naples taxpayers that despite the challenges and scandals in the fire district, citizens can feel confident about the level of fire protection in the district.

    "I want to make sure the public understands there has always been high-quality, professional fire protection and rescue services from North Naples," Rautio said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
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    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  23. #48
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    Post It keeps going and going

    Naples Daily News

    NNFD: Commissioners urged to accept terms of mediation

    Friday, June 13, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    North Naples fire commissioners took a step Thursday toward resolving a dispute over the $300,000 severance agreement awarded to former Fire Chief James Tobin last year.

    Hoping to settle a lawsuit filed by a North Naples taxpayer, fire district attorney John Cardillo urged commissioners to accept the terms of a nonbinding mediation proceeding.

    Commissioners unanimously agreed to mediate the issue of the $300,000 in July.

    Cardillo said the other parties, Ray Bass, the attorney for Tobin, and Fred Hardt, a lawyer representing Janet Vasey, the local government watchdog who is suing, have agreed to mediation proceedings to try and reach an understanding.

    The decision to mediate with the parties came nearly 10 months after the legal wrangling among Vasey, Tobin and the district began.

    Cardillo told fire commissioners why mediation was the best avenue to pursue.

    "I have finally gotten (the other side) to agree to submit ourselves to mediation," Cardillo said. "Whether we need a court order or not, it would be my recommendation to do this."

    Because the mediation would be nonbinding, Cardillo said, if all parties come to an agreement, whatever the resolution turns out to be would be forwarded to a judge for approval and then go before the fire district commissioners for the final say.

    That means "we all agree on a settlement to resolve the issue," Cardillo added. "We would come out with a statement that would say, 'This is what the proposed agreement would be.' "

    Commissioners agreed fire commission Chairman Christopher Lombardo should act as the representative for the district during the mediation proceeding, which is private and confidential.

    Cardillo said mediation would likely occur sometime in July, once all parties agree on a mediator.

    Lombardo agreed mediation was the best option.

    "I have said from the get-go that mediation is where this case should go," he said. "It's a necessary step. It's usually about an eight-hour affair."

    Cardillo reiterated how mediation could benefit the district.

    "My optimism is that we're able to do this before the courts get involved," he said. "My suggestion is that we postpone any further litigation procedures."

    Lombardo, who is a civil trial attorney, said mediation is often a venue at which "there's a lot of venting you have to do before you get to some real number crunching."

    Commissioner Henry Hamel, who participated in Thursday's meeting via telephone from New Jersey, suggested Lombardo attend the mediation.


    Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio said she, too, supported the legal strategy of trying to mediate the case, saying, "I think we need to heal the district."

    Tobin walked away from his $94,000-a-year post in exchange for the $300,000 severance negotiated on Aug. 29, 2002, when the majority of fire commissioners agreed on the lump sum. Lombardo and Rautio voted against Tobin's payout. Hamel and commissioners Steve Milligan and Ed Maguire voted in favor.

    In the last two years of Tobin's tenure as fire chief, he was embroiled in one controversy after another. Tobin quarreled with the firefighters' union, was accused of ordering his assistant to do his college course work and charged college courses on district-provided credit cards before leaving.

    Vasey filed suit in September, alleging that Tobin's $300,000 compensation payout was invalid because it was negotiated behind closed doors and violated Florida's open meeting laws that allow the public to attend.

    A Collier County Circuit judge had placed a temporary block on $150,000, or the first installment of the payment, preventing the district from disbursing Tobin the money. However, the 2nd District Court of Appeal recently lifted that injunction, prompting Tobin's lawyer to request a check be cut for the $150,000 payment, originally due Tobin on Oct. 1.

    Under the agreement, Tobin is scheduled to receive the second $150,000 installment Oct. 1 of this year. So far, Tobin has received four months' severance pay in the amount of $31,160.72.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  24. #49
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    Post Update: Investigators Raise Questions on Expenses

    Naples Daily News

    NNFD: Records raise questions about expenses paid for by impact fees

    06/21/2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    A check for $63 made out to an employee.

    Payment of nearly $30,000 on emergency radios.

    The purchase of a $1,000 computer workstation.

    Those and hundreds of other questionable purchases were made by the North Naples fire district using money from the impact fee account during the five years James Tobin was fire chief, district records obtained by the Daily News show.

    New fire vehicles, airpacks for firefighters, expensive portable radios and new computers were some of the items purchased with impact fee money over the five-year period, sometimes without the consent of the board of fire commissioners.

    Activity surrounding the district's impact fee fund during the time Tobin was head of the fire department is being closely examined by the department's independent auditor, Jeff Tuscan, of the Fort Myers accounting firm Markham Norton Stroemer & Co.

    The impact fee account will be the topic of discussion during a special meeting among fire district staff and commissioners slated for Tuesday, July 1, at fire station No. 45 at Veterans Park off Immokalee Road.

    Staff is trying to determine which purchases are impact-fee related and which should have been paid for with money from the district's general operating fund. This is one of two separate reviews conducted of the district's finances.

    The impact fee fund of Oct. 1, 1996, through Sept. 30, 2001, will be reviewed. District staff is in the process of dissecting all purchases made through the impact fee account during that time period, said Becky Pogan, the district's current finance director.

    Pogan said the auditor wants all issues concerning the impact fee fund out in the open so that Tuscan's firm can aggressively delve into the entire financial history of the department's impact fee fund during the Tobin years.

    "The auditor general is looking very closely at our audit," Pogan said. "Tuscan's overriding concern is that he'll complete the audit and then someone will bring forward a financial issue that will impact the audit once it's done."

    Under state law, money from the impact fee fund is solely to be utilized to purchase capital assets, such as a fire truck, out of a need for growth within the district. Impact fee money is collected through charges imposed on new commercial or residential buildings. The law requires taxpayer-funded agencies, such as the North Naples fire district, to adequately maintain and differentiate the impact fee account from the general operating budget.

    The impact fee account brings in more than $1 million on average to the district each fiscal year, extending from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, Pogan said.

    District records show that a $63 check out of the impact fee checkbook was made payable to Lisa Stefani, the department's executive assistant, for "professional services" she rendered Dec. 21, 1998. Stefani is on unpaid administrative leave, on an unrelated matter, pending the outcome of a hearing regarding her employment, Fire Chief James Webb said.

    Tobin, who left his $94,000-a year job with the district on Aug. 29, 2002, in exchange for a $300,000 severance, at one time kept the impact fee account checkbook in his North Naples residence, records show.

    Records reveal that checks for large expenditures were handwritten from the impact fee checkbook during October 1998 through September 1999 at least a portion of the period of time Tobin is believed to have kept the checkbook at his home.

    Tobin's attorney said his client never kept the district checkbook at his home.

    One month after Tobin left the district, the department's public information officer, Jerry Sanford, went to Tobin's home to pick up some bunker gear that Tobin was returning to the department. It was then, on Sept. 30, 2002, that Tobin handed Sanford the impact fee fund checkbook, records show.

    Records show that some of the items acquired with money from the impact fee fund during the time Tobin had control of the impact fee checkbook include two vehicles purchased at Tamiami Ford. One was a 1998 Ford Ranger bought on Dec. 14, 1998, for approximately $18,630 and a 1999 Ford F-350 vehicle purchased on April 20, 1999, for about $29,750, records show.

    The vehicle purchases have raised questions in the district about whether Tobin purchased these vehicles to replace other vehicles, due to district growth, or if they were bought for his personal use while chief.

    Records also reveal an expenditure of $74,664 for a down payment on a 1999 rescue vehicle purchased Oct. 21, 1998, from Aero Products/Medic Master. In April 1999, the district paid off the balance of the rescue fleet with a check for $86,661, records show.

    Also during the time checks were written out of the impact fee fund checkbook, records show, purchases were made between October 1998 and September 1999 for the following:

    n two new rescue vehicles for $101,660 from Ten-8 Fire Equipment;

    n bunker gear for approximately $5,600 from Safety Equipment Co.;

    n a thermal imaging camera for $37,000 from Ten-8 Fire Equipment.

    Purchases at Home Depot, Kmart, Naples Engraving, Lowe's Home Center and Bonita Rent-All also were made during that time with money from the impact fee fund, records show.

    Ray Bass, the attorney representing Tobin, said his client denies ever keeping such a checkbook at his residence.

    "Somebody's got their facts mixed up," Bass said. "It was a check register. (Tobin) found this with his personal things when he was cleaning out his stuff in the fire department. Somehow the register was packed with his things. (Tobin) said he never wrote any checks."

    Pogan, the department's finance director, said the book in question wasn't a register but a checkbook.

    "It has blank checks in there and check stubs," she said. "It is a checkbook."

    Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a government watchdog organization, said under Florida law, public records are to be "kept safely" and "in the place where they're generally used."

    "The law says they should be kept in the building where they are most routinely used," she said.

    The First Amendment Foundation is supported by financial donations from newspapers in Florida, including the Naples Daily News.

    Tuscan, the independent auditor, has raised concerns regarding the district's need to reconcile accounts, establish policies and regulate the department's impact fee fund. Last month, Tuscan addressed fire commissioners about the issue.

    "In the past, the district, has, you know, taken a path where historically, it has erred on the aggressive side of using impact fees," Tuscan said.

    During that meeting, Tuscan also advised commissioners that the state's Auditor General was keeping a close eye on the fire district's finances.

    The office of the Auditor General wants to "have some comfort that the issues that were issues in the past are now being corrected and that the district is moving forward in correcting things like the use of the impact fees and building fund balances," Tuscan said. "As you recall, one of the things we mentioned in last year's budget was something called a 'deteriorating financial condition,' which meant fund balance reserves, in other words, were dropping (and) expenditures were greater than revenues."

    At a recent fire commission meeting, fire Commissioner Joyceanna "J.A." Rautio, who serves as the district's treasurer, pointed out a list of unresolved items that raise more questions about whether the district's impact fee fund was used improperly.

    "We are diligently attempting to resolve any and all past issues that complicate the district's financial condition," Rautio said. "As Tuscan said, we must keep moving forward. We must do so in a positive manner even while confronting problems of the past administration."

    Some of the impact fee-related expenditures Rautio is questioning involve general items purchased by the district for fire stations No. 45 and No. 46; whether the fund was used to purchase replacement vehicles, such as a car for Tobin; money spent on repainting trucks from green to red and purchasing non-flame firefighter jumpsuits and furniture for station No. 45.

    The fire district's finances have long been a concern for local and state officials.

    State Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, filed a request with the state last summer for a full-scale audit of finances at the North Naples fire district. After the district launched a full-scale internal probe of its finances, Saunders said he would wait for findings to be released before taking further action at the state level.

    Last fall, the FBI, Collier County Sheriff's Office Economic Crimes Unit and State Attorney's Office began a district investigation, which is continuing.

    Bill Ryan, a retired firefighter with the district, said he is interested in learning how much money was used and for what type of expenditures from the impact fee fund.

    "I want to make sure that all of the purchases out of the impact fee fund were legitimate impact fee expenditures," Ryan said, "and that all of the contracts that were left under impact fees have competitive bids, purchase orders and receipts so that the account can be seen as a clear path of how these items were purchased with district approval and as budgeted items."

    Despite the continued questions surrounding the district's finances, Pogan assured that since Webb became the district's fire chief, the department has made "tremendous progress."

    "There's still the allegations of improper use of impact fees that slows the day-to-day progress that we've made," Pogan said. "A few years ago, bills were paid late, bank reconciliations weren't done and things weren't taken to the board on a regular basis."

    Rautio and fire commission Chairman Christopher Lombardo, during last month's fire commission meeting, said they were aware of public perception with relation to the district. Both agreed that financial issues within the fire department should be out in the open and resolved.

    "... We can't be in a position where we're sweeping things under the rug," Lombardo said. "And I don't think that's the attitude this commission has taken of recent."
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  25. #50
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    Post The Chief Fires Back

    NNFD: Tobin says documents were concealed from finance audit

    06/21/2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    Former North Naples Fire Chief James Tobin told the accountant probing the department's finances that district staff failed to hand over all the necessary documents and Tobin has the copies to prove it, the accountant says in his final report.

    After a three-month delay, the much-anticipated internal investigation report prepared by Naples accountant Stephen Cohen is finished and includes the significant addition of Tobin's e-mail correspondence.

    Cohen submitted the document to the fire district this week. It details how Tobin, according to Cohen, ran the fire department as his private business.

    The district hired Cohen last fall and paid him $14,500 to conduct a forensic audit of district finances. After a string of errors was spotted on the initial report, commissioners asked Cohen to fix the inaccuracies.

    The report will likely go before the fire commission for approval before the document is forwarded to local, state and federal authorities for review.

    Fire Commissioner Henry Hamel welcomed word that Cohen's report was complete.

    "It's been eight months and that's too long," Hamel said. "It should've been done a long time ago. I know one of our commissioners is looking to get some money back from Mr. Cohen on the basis that it wasn't done expeditiously or with care. There were so many errors that came up."

    To the final report, Cohen attached a new piece of information: a copy of an e-mail he said he received from Tobin, who assured Cohen he had copies of district documents to which Cohen wasn't privy.

    Commissioners had instructed Cohen to investigate the last three years of Tobin's five-year tenure. Once the report was complete, commissioners agreed, the document would be sent to local, state and federal authorities for review.

    Tobin left the fire district Aug. 29, 2002, under intense scrutiny, after the majority of fire commissioners awarded him a $300,000 severance, now the subject of a legal challenge by a North Naples taxpayer.

    Ray Bass, the attorney representing Tobin, confirmed it was Tobin who wrote to Cohen alerting him to information Tobin said he had and wanted to share.

    In his e-mail dated June 15, Tobin refers to records he contends weren't handed over to Cohen by fire district staff.

    "I have a lot of copies of paperwork that these people did not provide you," Tobin wrote. "Let's get together. I will show you another side. This is all about power, money and union control of the fire department."

    Bass, who initially wasn't aware Tobin had sent the e-mail, stressed that any and all documents in Tobin's possession are only "copies."

    "He doesn't have original documents," Bass said. "He has obtained copies of documents."

    Bass also blasted Cohen's report, saying Cohen never contacted Bass nor his client during the internal investigation of district finances.

    "(Cohen) is doing an investigation to bring the facts to light and that has not occurred here ... not at all," Bass said, adding that Cohen's report appeared to be based on newspaper accounts of the district's financial problems. "A lot of this stuff is old. I expect a professional person to use something other than conclusions to base a report."

    Cohen's conclusions include:


    Tobin would often order administrative employees to perform certain tasks because, "as he would say to subordinates, 'I'm the chief;'"
    District records went missing;
    The department's impact fee checkbook at one time was kept in Tobin's possession at home;
    Tobin, along with his then-executive assistant, Lisa Stefani, and former head of accounting, Bill Hansell, occasionally would remove district documents and bring those files to their respective residences.
    Bass said he believed Cohen's report proves nothing.

    "There's no smoke here and there's no fire," he said. "This (report) is worthless."

    The fire district launched an internal probe of district finances in October amid mounting public pressure regarding the department's bookkeeping chaos during Tobin's tenure.

    Last fall, FBI agents and officials from the Collier County sheriff's Economic Crimes Unit and State Attorney's Office stepped in to probe the fire department. The investigation is continuing.

    In March, commissioners criticized the Cohen report when numerous typos were found and incorrect information uncovered.

    Fire Commissioner Joyceanna "J.A." Rautio recently asked department attorney Christopher Marsala to look into whether the department should pursue legal action against Cohen for breach of contract.

    Though Rautio continues to have reservations about the final report, she said the document should be forwarded to investigating authorities.

    "I still feel the report has weaknesses and it still didn't have the double-check and triple-check promise that Cohen made, but it's good enough to go forward to the proper authorities," Rautio said. "The weaknesses in the Cohen report do not minimize the wrongdoing at the district during Tobin's tenure."

    Rautio said she would contemplate whether to obtain at least a partial refund from Cohen's $14,500 retainer after consulting with fire commissioners at next month's fire commission meeting.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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