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  1. #21
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post The search for a new Fire Chief Begins

    North Naples Fire District moving forward in search for permanent chief

    Monday, November 25, 2002

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


    To move the search along, fire commissioners recently created a committee that would lay the guidelines and set the qualifications for a new chief.

    Fire Commissioner Henry Hamel will serve on the committee along with interim Fire Chief James Webb, Firefighters' Union President Scott Palmateer and business consultant Sid Jackson.

    The committee is scheduled to meet at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3; Wednesday, Dec. 4; and Wednesday, Jan. 15, at station No. 45 at Veterans Park off Immokalee Road.

    At a fire commissioners meeting earlier this month, the five-member board of commissioners praised Webb's leadership and skills and offered the interim chief extra compensation — in the form of a 10 percent pay increase — retroactive to Aug. 29, the day he replaced former chief James Tobin.

    Tobin left his post in exchange for a $300,000 payout, now in litigation. At that time, Webb served as assistant chief.

    Webb, whose annual salary is $87,611.62, rejected the salary boost, saying he'd rather wait until other employees from his administrative staff receive salary increases before he is awarded more money.

    "I was surprised," Webb told the Daily News. "I thought it was a nice thing for them to do."

    During the fire meeting, Webb told commissioners why a pay increase isn't a priority for him at this point.

    "I appreciate the sentiments that the board has, " he said. "But let me tell you that I took this job not for a 10 percent raise, not for the glory of the job, but so that we could get to business and we could take care of things that need to be taken care of. I don't care about being the chief. I have never aspired to be the top dog."

    While Webb said he wants the fire chief job, he said he'd be happy with whatever decision fire commissioners make.

    Webb, a 26-year firefighter with the district, said he plans to work four more years before retiring. He told commissioners of his desire for the district, a $15 million business, to function as such in the future even after he's long gone.

    "It is not a little fire department like it was when I came," Webb said. "I am on my way out. I want this business to be run like a business."

    Hamel set a February 2003 deadline for the district to select and appoint a new chief. He suggested for Webb to be given a series of tasks to perform during the six-month period. Upon satisfactory completion of those duties, Webb would become the district's next fire chief.

    The new committee would come up with a selection process as it pertains to a chief's educational background, work experience and goals for the district.

    When Tobin was hired in 1996 by the former board of fire commissioners, there weren't any guidelines in place to follow a set of criteria for hiring a new chief, commissioners said.

    Webb took over Tobin's job three months ago. Some, such as Palmateer, have said Webb has worked out well for the fire district. Palmateer, the firefighters' union president, repeatedly called for Tobin's ouster during the former chief's five-year tenure with the district.

    Tobin is at the center of an FBI probe of the fire district and is fighting a legal battle to receive payment on the $300,000 compensation package he was awarded by the majority of fire commissioners.

    Palmateer told commissioners that firefighters are behind Webb all the way.

    "The employees here at the district have really had a great morale boost by Chief Webb coming in here," Palmateer said. "And for a guy to work his way up to chief is a great feat, I think."

    The salary for a new fire chief could range from $85,000 to $96,000 a year.
    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. #22
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post Another Twist

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    Ex-deputy North Naples fire chief takes job as fire inspector

    Thursday, November 28, 2002

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


    A high-ranking employee of the North Naples Fire District — and former ally to ex-fire Chief James Tobin — has voluntarily agreed to a pay cut and accepted a new job with the fire department.

    Bill Hansell, the district's onetime deputy fire chief and chief financial officer, began his job as a fire inspector last week, just days after fire commissioners granted Hansell's request to pay for his legal fees.


    "I just wanted something different," said Hansell, a 19-year firefighter with the district. "I wanted to get out into the buildings and into the public more."

    Hansell's annual salary has dropped from $72,349.60 to $54,778.87 — a difference of more than $ 17,500 a year.

    "I don't mind the pay cut," he said. "It's an opportunity."

    Interim Fire Chief James Webb said it was Hansell's decision to apply for the fire inspector position on Nov. 6, the day the job opening was posted. Hansell wrote an e-mail to Karl Reynolds, the district's fire marshal, informing him he was interested in the slot.

    "No one else applied for the job," Webb said.

    The fire district and Tobin are at the center of an FBI probe. Hansell told fire commissioners earlier this month that he had retained Naples attorney Lee Hollander because of his role in the "amendment of public records" per Tobin's request.

    In a letter to Fire Commission Chairman Ed Maguire, Hansell requested for the district to reimburse him for his legal fees. Commissioners unanimously agreed to pay up to $2,000 for Hansell's attorney fees — and awarded the same amount to Lisa Stefani, the ex-assistant to Tobin.

    Stefani has been interviewed by the FBI pertaining to duties Tobin ordered her to perform during his five-year tenure with the district. Stefani has said she did some of Tobin's course work while he pursued a bachelor's degree at International College. Hansell has said he has yet to be questioned by federal or local authorities.

    For Hansell, the fire inspector job is the second time he has accepted a new position within the department in two months.

    On Sept. 5, Webb, the interim fire chief, reassigned Hansell's duties. Hansell, who spent nearly two years as chief financial officer, was transferred to work as deputy chief of administration. In that position, Hansell came up with a five-year capital plan for the district and assisted staff in the implementation of a cell phone policy, Webb said.

    Webb named Becky Pogan, the district's former controller, as the new chief financial officer. Pogan is in charge of all financial matters within the district, including requests for purchase orders and special pay.

    A recent audit report released by Jeff Tuscan, the district's independent auditor, revealed that the district's finances from Oct. 1, 2000, through Sept. 30, 2001 — during the time Hansell oversaw the finances — were in shambles. Tuscan advised fire commissioners and the district's administrative staff to find ways to cut back on expenses. He advised that the district's 17 checking/debit and money market accounts had not been properly reconciled.

    Recently, Hansell told the Daily News and in the letter to Maguire that he had crossed out information on Tobin's payroll time sheets per Tobin's orders. Hansell said he changed data in time sheets and misreported information showing Tobin was working a regular 40-hour work week when, in reality, Tobin was vacationing in his Massachusetts hometown.

    Tobin resigned from the district Aug. 29 under a cloud of controversy. Fire commissioners, by a 3-2 vote, agreed to hand Tobin a $300,000 payoff, which is in litigation in Collier County circuit court, after a local government watchdog filed a suit against Tobin and the district, saying the payout was unconstitutional and violated Florida statutes.

    Hansell said this week that he's on vacation until mid-December.

    Upon his return, he will report to Reynolds, his new supervisor in the Fire Prevention Bureau at station 45 at Veterans Park.
    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. #23
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post A related story......

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    NNFD: Fire commissioner accused of using influence to help out developer

    Sunday, December 1, 2002

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


    Questions are being raised about whether a North Naples fire commissioner used his influence at the fire district to help out the developer of a ritzy high-rise in Pelican Bay because the builder was a client of the commissioner's business partner.

    Two years ago, Gulf Bay Construction was building St. Raphael, 7117 Pelican Bay Blvd., 22 floors of luxury condominiums comprising 178 units in Pelican Bay.

    Officials from the North Naples Fire District say Gulf Bay was behind schedule and needed fire inspectors to sign off on a certificate of occupancy, which certifies that a structure has met all fire code requirements and is safe and ready to be occupied.

    A North Naples retired assistant fire chief says Fire Commissioner Christopher Lombardo, a civil trial attorney, asked then-Fire Chief James Tobin to intervene in the inspection process of St. Raphael because Lombardo's law firm was representing the developer.

    Lombardo, who ran an uncontested race this year to stay on as fire commissioner for another four years, isn't denying his involvement with St. Raphael. He contends that Gulf Bay, the developer, is a client of Mark Woodward, his business partner at Woodward & Lombardo law offices in North Naples.

    Lombardo denies he ever asked Tobin or anyone else at the fire district for favors or special treatment.

    Lombardo said he did some minimal legal work for Gulf Bay in the early 1990s. He said he didn't represent the developer in 2000 — when St. Raphael was going up — nor does he represent Gulf Bay now.

    The fire district's current fire marshal says Tobin put pressure on him to sign off on the certificate of occupancy for St. Raphael, even while the building was still under construction, had not passed fire inspections and was not safe to occupy.

    Former Assistant Fire Chief Ken Rodgers said when inspectors refused to sign off on the certificate, Tobin ordered for firefighters to perform fire watches at St. Raphael for long periods of time.

    "I don't know if Lombardo ordered (Tobin) to do this, but the chief (Tobin) said Lombardo wanted someone to do that," said Rodgers from his home in Homossassa Springs in Central Florida.



    St. Raphael in Pelican Bay, a new high-rise development that went up in 2000 in Naples, is now part of the burgeoning North Naples Fire Department controversy, in which district employees allege that Fire Commissioner Christopher Lombardo asked then-Chief James Tobin to assign personnel from the Fire Prevention Bureau to work 24-hour fire watch drills at St. Raphael for a two-month period in 2000. One employee says that St. Raphael paid for the firefighters' overtime, but that it is an unusual practice to send firefighters for fire watches for two months. Erik Kellar/Staff

    Fire code on new construction requires that buildings must either have a fire alarm in place or a sprinkler system working before a building can be occupied. Because St. Raphael had neither, two firefighters, in rotating shifts, were assigned to 24-hour fire watch drills at St. Raphael, fire officials said.

    Rodgers said it was "pretty unusual" for firefighters to perform extended fire watches such as all of the overtime work they performed at St. Raphael. He said he believes the project was given special consideration because of the Lombardo connection.

    He said Tobin was putting pressure on fire inspectors.

    "It had a little extra weight because (the request) came from Lombardo," said Rodgers, who retired from the district earlier this year. "We would do (fire watches) for a week for (other developers) . . . for eight hours a day, but this went on at St. Raphael for a long time."

    Fire district records show Gulf Bay Construction paid the district $40,300 for overtime incurred by firefighters who performed fire watches from July 3-July 20 of 2000. The average hourly pay for firefighters working overtime is $39.57, according to district records.

    Karl Reynolds, the district's fire marshal, said Tobin had a keen interest in making sure that inspectors would issue St. Raphael a certificate of occupancy in 2000, when the building was being erected.

    During the 17-day period, Reynolds said, firefighters worked at St. Raphael's construction site because the builder, Gulf Bay, had not yet installed fire alarms or a sprinkler system.

    "(Tobin) came and asked about St. Raphael," Reynolds said. "He said, 'We want to get that building up and passed,' (referring to inspection)." I wouldn't sign off on it and Ken Rodgers wouldn't sign off on it for the occupancy certificate. (Tobin) wanted to get that done but I said no until life safety (in the building) is met."

    Reynolds said the high-rise had not passed inspection. Fire inspectors require new structures to abide by a life safety code, requiring such fire precautions as generators, fire alarms, sprinklers, proper entry and exit to stairways and elevators.

    Gulf Bay needed the fire watches in order for contractors and subcontractors to be allowed on the premises, fire officials said.

    Rodgers and Reynolds said Gulf Bay was behind on construction and was incurring steep fines.

    Bill Ford, vice president of Gulf Bay, could not be reached for comment.

    Rodgers also said he recalled an encounter he had with Lombardo at St. Raphael's construction site once in 2000.

    Reynolds said Tobin, who began his post as fire chief in 1997, would mainly steer clear of the Fire Prevention Bureau, where fire inspectors and other fire code officials work.

    But it was different with St. Raphael.

    When the St. Raphael project came about, Reynolds recalled Tobin being actively involved and wanting updates on when the certificate of occupancy would be issued to the new building.

    "St. Raphael was the only (project) he came to me about and wanted to have this done," Reynolds said. "(Tobin) would say, 'I have broad shoulders and I can do what I want.'"

    Reynolds said he did not recall Tobin ever mentioning anything about the request coming from Lombardo.

    Ray Bass, the attorney representing Tobin, said his client is unfairly being blamed for anything and everything that went wrong at the fire district.

    "Anything can happen around there now and that would be Chief Tobin's fault," Bass said. "He is the designated fall guy for everything now. Tobin is being vilified for everything. Everybody there is scared for their jobs."



    Former North Naples Fire Chief James Tobin

    Bass said Tobin told him that Lombardo was "quite involved" with the St. Raphael project. He said Lombardo took it upon himself to meet directly with fire inspectors, Reynolds and firefighters and set up fire watches without going through Tobin first.

    "Tobin had a problem with Lombardo dealing directly with (Tobin's) subordinates instead of going through Tobin," Bass said. "(Tobin) looked into why Lombardo was so concerned about this and he found out that Lombardo or his firm were representing the people (Gulf Bay) on the receiving end."

    Lombardo said his relationship with Gulf Bay and interest in moving the project along was strictly out of concern for a constituent — not for personal gain. He also said that if Tobin chose to "interject himself" in the project, it certainly wasn't at the request of Lombardo.

    "Gulf Bay was frustrated and they wanted to close on the building," Lombardo said. "They had complaints about the fire inspector who would find something wrong with the building and say, 'We'll come back when you've fixed it.' When I listened to this tale, I thought this wasn't good. It's not good for any developer."

    Lombardo said his conversations about St. Raphael were with Ford, vice president of Gulf Bay. Ford, according to Lombardo, was frustrated about how inspectors were doing their job.

    Lombardo said he contacted Reynolds, the fire marshal, and asked him for help with the project. He said he also talked to Tobin, then the fire chief, about it.

    "I called Karl (Reynolds) and I said, 'Can you look at this for me?' I asked Karl to look at this and for us to figure out a way to run these (inspections) a little smoother," Lombardo said. "Karl said he would go out and take a look at this. He said one alternative was a fire watch."

    Lombardo said he doesn't consider his role with St. Raphael and the fire district a conflict of interest.

    "This isn't a situation where anyone is asking anyone for favors," Lombardo said. "We have a high-growth district here and there's a lot of construction going on. This was about a constituent who was upset with the department about problems they were having with the department."

    Reynolds, the fire marshal, said St. Raphael was awarded a certificate of occupancy on July 21, 2000.

    Lombardo has been and continues to be a critic of Tobin.

    Earlier this year, Lombardo was one of two fire commissioners who voted against a $300,000 payout negotiated for Tobin by Fire Commission Chairman Ed Maguire on Aug. 29, when Tobin resigned from the district. Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio opposed the payoff. Maguire and commissioners Henry Hamel and Steve Milligan voted in favor of the $300,000 compensation agreement, now in litigation in Collier circuit courts.

    According to Lombardo, he never had a conversation with fire inspectors or other district employees about having a certificate of occupancy issued to St. Raphael before building inspections were complete.

    "I just wanted to make sure that we were doing our job," he said. "I don't recall Gulf Bay ever wanting a certificate of occupancy before the building was ready. They wanted to have everything in order to be compliant."
    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.

  4. #24
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    Post The Chief is Gone...but Controversies Continue to Plague Department

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    NNFD: Rautio, Lombardo oppose ceding authority to fire chief

    Friday, December 6, 2002

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com

    Vowing not to surrender their public duty to any one chief, two North Naples fire commissioners stood their ground Thursday and shot down a proposal that would have made the district's next chief the sole supervisor of the district without oversight.

    Fire commissioners engaged in a heated debate when they considered whether they should be allowed to meddle in day-to-day operations of the fire district.

    Commissioners Joyceanna "JA" Rautio and Christopher Lombardo opposed the wording of a policies and procedures document that would require commissioners to inform the fire chief every time they wish to address district staff.

    Rautio said she was convinced that the original request for rules on policies and procedures — first discussed in April — came from former Chief James Tobin, who left the district Aug. 29 under a cloud of controversy.

    "I respect the chain of command and all rules and procedures," Rautio said. "This was, in my opinion, an attempt to stop Commissioner Lombardo and I from getting any information or asking questions. I will not surrender my job to a chief."

    "This was, in my opinion, an attempt to stop Commissioner Lombardo and I from getting any information or asking questions. I will not surrender my job to a chief," Fire Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio said.

    James Webb, former assistant chief, has been interim fire chief since Aug. 29, when his predecessor, Tobin, resigned in exchange for a $300,000 compensation agreement, negotiated behind closed doors and away from the public by fire commission Chairman Ed Maguire. A local government watchdog filed a lawsuit to bar payout of the $300,000, now in litigation in Collier County circuit court.

    During Thursday's fire district meeting, Rautio and Lombardo blasted commissioners Henry Hamel, Steve Milligan and Maguire for their support of wording of a proposed policies and procedures proposal that would prohibit commissioners from exercising their right to supervise the district's business.

    Hamel, Milligan and Maguire, who all voted in favor of Tobin's $300,000 payout, said any business that commissioners wished to discuss with district personnel would first have to be cleared with the fire chief. Rautio and Lombardo, longtime critics of Tobin, cast the dissenting votes against Tobin's payout.

    "You have to go through a protocol," Maguire said. "We're not saying you're being denied the ability to talk to people. We're saying let the man in charge know."

    But Lombardo didn't see it that way.

    "If I want to talk to a firefighter or find out how the morale is in the department, then I think I have that prerogative," he said. "What makes the system work is that there's a checks and balances. It's not that I have a problem with Chief Webb. But 50 years from now, I don't want a commissioner to surrender a job to a chief."

    Rautio added, "This is ludicrous. The chief understands what's happening. I'm going to continue to do my job."

    With the exception of Lombardo, who left the meeting early, commissioners voted 4-0 in favor of adopting the policies and procedures rule, after amending the document and deleting the paragraph in question.

    "You have to go through a protocol," Fire Commission Chairman Ed Maguire said. "We're not saying you're being denied the ability to talk to people. We're saying let the man in charge know."

    At the meeting, commissioners discussed a fluke with the coding system used by state officials to disburse money to fire district pensions from tax revenues across the state.

    Fire commissioners also chose new officers for the commission. Effective in January, Lombardo will be the new chairman. Maguire, the current chairman, will start to serve as vice chairman and Rautio, the board's newest commissioner, was selected secretary/treasurer.

    Bill Ryan, chairman of the Firefighters' Pension Trust Fund, told commissioners that the district is due "millions of dollars'' in tax revenues from property insurance premiums collected on policies covering property within the district. Confusion over boundaries and ZIP codes in Collier County has funds from the district's Chapter 175 pension plan going to the city of Naples instead, he said.

    "The district hasn't received the revenues it's entitled to," Ryan told the Daily News. "The pension has tried different avenues of making the public aware of the discrepancy."

    Tallahassee-based attorney James Linn, who represents the district, filed a lawsuit in 2000 on behalf of the pension board, naming seven insurance companies and three government entities as defendants, but the suit was dismissed and nothing ever came of it.

    Attempts to settle the pension plan ordeal through the Legislature also has proved fruitless, said Ryan, who urged commissioners to take action.

    Lombardo called the discrepancy "ripe for a citizens' complaint."

    Michael Lissack, who lost his bid to represent North Naples on the Collier County Commission in the September primary election, said that he as a taxpayer would pledge $2,500 to refile the suit.

    "This is to subsidize the legal lawsuit to sue the insurance companies and insurance agencies to get that money back," said Lissack, a semiretired entrepreneur and former Wall Street investment banker who became an FBI undercover informant and noted whistle-blower.

    Ryan said he would consult with the pension board's attorney, Bob Sugarman in Miami, to determine further action.
    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. #25
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post Controversy contines

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    Naples man raises questions over Tobin's ethics hearing

    Monday, December 23, 2002

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    Two days before former North Naples Fire Chief James Tobin was exonerated on charges that he and a fire commissioner violated state ethics rules, the ex-chief publicly announced that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing.

    Tobin's announcement this past summer prompted North Naples resident Jack Pointer, who filed an ethics complaint, to be suspicious.

    "I have all the reports from the investigators for the Ethics Commission and all of the charges are being dropped as a recommendation from the Ethics Commission that there was nothing ever done wrong," said Tobin during a July 23 fire commission meeting, transcripts show.

    Pointer, a member of the fire district's five-member pension board, filed the complaint in July 2001 with the Florida Commission on Ethics. The complaint alleged that Tobin and Fire Commissioner Steve Milligan had transferred $85,600 from a firefighters' pension plan on Sept. 22, 1999, into the district's general reserve account without permission from the pension board.

    On July 25, the Ethics panel held a hearing — which Pointer attended — in Tallahassee, where it was determined that there was "no probable cause" to charge Tobin or Milligan with an ethics violation.

    "It was a three-minute hearing and it was over," said Pointer of North Naples. "They had already made up their minds and exonerated Tobin and Milligan. There was no point to me being there."

    Pointer is raising questions about the hearing. He believes Tobin ordered attorney John Cardillo, who works for the fire district, to serve as the former chief's attorney.

    "Cardillo was acting as Tobin's personal attorney but was paid by the district," Pointer said. "Tobin signed the checks on Cardillo's retainer and told him to say whatever (Tobin) wanted him to."

    Tobin has called the transfer of the $85,600 a bookkeeping error.

    Milligan said he and Tobin spoke with Cardillo about the ethics charges shortly after they were filed. The issue, Milligan said, was also brought to the attention of James Linn, a Tallahassee-based attorney who is also retained by the fire district.

    "(Cardillo) was the one we gave our information to," Milligan said. "We contacted John (Cardillo) to see what we needed to do. We gave written information to John Cardillo of our facts of the case. He said he would take care of it from there."

    Cardillo contends that he wrote a letter to the Ethics board on behalf of Tobin and Milligan, notifying the panel that he thought Pointer's allegations were baseless.

    He said he doesn't recall who asked him to write the letter but denied that he ever did legal work for Tobin or Milligan on a personal level.

    "I initially wrote a letter to the Ethics Board when the issue first came up but after that I was not involved in it at all," Cardillo said. "After that, I did not represent Tobin or Milligan in any way. I wasn't arguing somebody's case."

    Cardillo went on to say:

    "I sent my opinion up (to the Ethics Commission) on whether there was any wrongdoing. Mr. Pointer had no proof that Mr. Tobin and Mr. Milligan had benefited in this," he added.

    Linn, of the legal firm Lewis, Longman & Walker based in Tallahassee, said Tobin sent him documents pertaining to the Ethics Commission probe, but that he was never involved in the matter.

    "I did not represent him (or Milligan) in that," Linn said. "I explained to them that I could not represent them and I could not get any other information because I wasn't representing them."

    Tobin, who spent five years as fire chief, left his post amid controversy Aug. 29, when the majority of fire commissioners, in a 3-2 vote, awarded him a $300,000 compensation payout. A Collier County circuit judge barred the district from paying Tobin anything more than four months' severance pay, after a local government watchdog filed a lawsuit against Tobin and the district to stop payment of the money.

    Helen Jones is a spokeswoman with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

    She said Tobin's file with the Ethics board shows that neither Tobin or Milligan had an attorney of record representing them during the ethics probe.

    She said that's not uncommon.

    Jones noted that when Tobin announced he had been cleared by the Ethics panel, he may have been referring to the Ethics Commission's recommendation — not the final decision.

    "Mr. Tobin wasn't speaking of exoneration," Jones said. "He was talking of a recommendation made by the (Ethics) Commission advocate, who made the recommendation to the board of no probable cause. The commission can either accept it or reject it."

    But Fire Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio said Tobin knew of the Ethics Commission's decision one week prior to his public announcement of July 23 during the fire commission meeting.

    Rautio contends that on July 18, she, Tobin and other fire district personnel were in a preliminary budget hearing when Tobin announced that "the day was full of good news" because the Ethics Commission had exonerated him.

    "(Tobin) kept saying it's all good news and he repeated it," Rautio said. "That was a huge red flag for me. I was actually dumbfounded because I knew the (Ethics hearing) wasn't going to be until the following week."

    Rautio said there was a reason why Tobin at the time called the ruling by the Ethics panel "more good news."

    Becky Pogan, the district's chief financial officer, said Tobin ordered her to walk in during that July 18 budget meeting and announce that Tobin had been cleared by the district's independent auditor on another matter.

    Members of the district's pension board had alleged Tobin belonged to a general pension plan that he had inappropriately received money from. Pogan, who at the time was the district's controller, said she had informed Tobin that he had been cleared of wrongdoing.

    Tobin wanted other people to hear the news, so he instructed Pogan to make the announcement in front of the district's top brass, Pogan said.

    "He directed me to come into the meeting and to say this," Pogan said. "I believe he wanted the information repeated so perhaps other chiefs and the commissioner in attendance could hear it."

    When Tobin and Milligan were cleared by the Ethics panel earlier this year, Rautio said, she contacted the Ethics Commission.

    "I wanted to know why the Ethics Commission gave Tobin the decision in advance," she said. "That just seemed incredibly odd."
    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. #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.

  7. #27
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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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.

  8. #28
    55 Years & Still Rolling hwoods's Avatar
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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

  9. #29
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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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.

  10. #30
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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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.

  11. #31
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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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.

  12. #32
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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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.

  13. #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 7½ 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.

  14. #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.

  15. #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.

  16. #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.

  17. #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
    "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.

  18. #38
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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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.

  19. #39
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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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.

  20. #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.

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