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  1. #41
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Exclamation Chief wins a round!!

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  2. #42
    Forum Member Firegod343's Avatar
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    Cool Yo' Captstanm1................

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

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

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


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

    SUN TZU

  3. #43
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post The Controversy Continues

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

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

    Monday, May 19, 2003

    By CHRIS W. COLBY, cwcolby@naplesnews.com


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Earlier this month, a state appeals court reversed Judge Ted Brousseau's decision temporarily barring former chief Tobin from collecting $300,000 in severance approved when he agreed to resign.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    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. #44
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post Ex-Chief Wants his money

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

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

    Tuesday, May 20, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Bass vehemently disagrees.

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

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

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

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

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

    Florida's public meeting laws permit fire commissioners to meet in a closed-door session so long as the issue involves active litigation pertaining to the fire district, Marsala noted
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    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. #45
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post Another Officer Under Scrutiny...

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

    _________________
    Naples Daily News

    North Naples fire official could get more time off from work

    Sunday, May 25, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Hansell was not available for comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Financial audits from 1997-2001

    Faxes to attorney regarding policies

    the uniform procedures manual

    Employee health benefits

    1999 Florida Statutes

    Public records requests and Florida statutes

    Public records handbook

    Budgets from 1998-2002

    Resolutions

    Report of the Auditor General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    " ... I have my own AOL account at home. I have no need for the department account," Hansell said, according to meeting transcripts.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "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. #46
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post Details of Sale of Fire Truck

    Naples Daily News

    Details emerge in sale of North Naples fire engine

    Tuesday, May 27, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "In the future, there will definitely be much more documentation on any type of sale. You can be assured that while I'm a fire commissioner, this type of thing will get tight scrutiny," Rautio added. "The fact that the tape is blank makes me very suspicious."
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    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. #47
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    Exclamation GOP Committee To Investigate Fire Department

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    GOP Executive Committee appoints committee to examine North Naples Fire District

    Tuesday, June 3, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "I want to make sure the public understands there has always been high-quality, professional fire protection and rescue services from North Naples," Rautio said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "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. #48
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    Post It keeps going and going

    Naples Daily News

    NNFD: Commissioners urged to accept terms of mediation

    Friday, June 13, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Lombardo agreed mediation was the best option.

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

    Cardillo reiterated how mediation could benefit the district.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

  9. #49
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    Post Update: Investigators Raise Questions on Expenses

    Naples Daily News

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

    06/21/2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    A check for $63 made out to an employee.

    Payment of nearly $30,000 on emergency radios.

    The purchase of a $1,000 computer workstation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  10. #50
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    Post The Chief Fires Back

    NNFD: Tobin says documents were concealed from finance audit

    06/21/2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Cohen's conclusions include:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Post Another Naples Fire Commission Story

    North Naples Fire District officials criticize GOP's Carr

    Monday, June 23, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


    One North Naples fire commissioner says he's offended by remarks recently made by the head of the local Republican Party.

    IF YOU GO

    The Collier County Republican Party Executive Committee is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, in County Commission chambers on the third floor of the government complex.


    At a recent fire commission meeting, Chairman Christopher Lombardo criticized statements made by Collier GOP Chairman Mike Carr about the fire district.

    Carr recently formed a committee whose job will be to examine the long-standing controversies at the fire department and provide the public with explanations.

    The three-member committee is scheduled to meet this week, Carr said.

    Over the past month, Carr has expressed concern about North Naples residents, who, he says, should not have to worry about the quality of their fire service as a result of the mounting administrative troubles in the taxpayer-funded district.

    Lombardo stressed that even amid problems at the district, the service and dedication district firefighters provide should not be called into question.

    "I find it offensive to hear comments like that," Lombardo said. "I think we have great firefighters and a great fire department, and an incredible level of service despite the controversy."

    The three-member panel chosen by Carr is made up of Janet Vasey, a local government watchdog; Chuck McMahon, chairman of the Golden Gate Fire District; and Tom Cannon, chairman of the East Naples Fire District.

    Vasey is suing the North Naples fire department to stop the agency from paying a $300,000 severance to former Chief James Tobin. The majority of fire commissioners agreed on Aug. 29, 2002, to pay Tobin the lump sum. It was the same day he left his $94,000-a-year job.

    Lombardo also complained about not having been invited to a meeting earlier this month held by the Collier GOP, at which Carr introduced the newly formed committee to fellow Republicans.

    Lombardo joked about the Republican Party's sudden involvement in fire district matters.

    "I know we can breathe easy that the Republican Party executive committee is going to go out and determine with absolute certainty that we're all safe — wow!" he said.

    While Lombardo complains about the GOP's involvement with the district, current North Naples Fire Chief James Webb recently said he applauds the efforts of the Republican Party.

    For more than two years, controversy at the district has taken center stage.

    Last month, Carr called for the ouster of four of the five North Naples fire commissioners. He suggested taxpayers replace Lombardo, along with fire commissioners Ed Maguire, Steve Milligan and Henry Hamel.

    Maguire, Milligan and Hamel are up for re-election next year. Lombardo began serving another four-year term in November.

    With the exception of Joyceanna "JA" Rautio, a new slate of commissioners should come on board, Carr noted.

    Rautio was appointed to the fire commission in mid-January 2002 and then was elected to serve for four years in November.

    Carr responded to criticism, stressing that his intention was never to disparage North Naples firefighters.

    "If folks are upset, they have only themselves to look at," Carr said. "The only one who stood up loud and clear and demanded accountability and honesty was JA Rautio. She demanded it early on. If we don't make an effort to solve this and if it's not solved by the people involved in the mess, the only solution is restructure the system."

    Bill Ryan, a retired firefighter from North Naples, and Michael Lissack, a former Collier County Commission candidate and North Naples taxpayer, both denounced Carr's reference to fire safety in the district.

    Rautio said the continuing problems at the district boil down to one issue.

    "In my opinion, current and former fire commissioners have failed to supervise the former chief," she said. "These problems should have been noticed long before I was appointed."

    But Carr isn't the only one keeping a close eye on issues relating to the North Naples Fire District.

    County commissioners Tom Henning, Jim Coletta, Donna Fiala and Fred Coyle have expressed concern about activity in the district. They said they support Carr's initiative.

    County Commissioner Frank Halas, who represent North Naples, was unavailable for comment.

    "I applaud the Republican Party looking into illegal expenses within all governments," Henning said.

    Coletta said, "I see no harm in what (the GOP) is doing."

    Fiala added, "I think it's a good idea to have a committee formed and to have some unbiased eyes looking at (the district) and probably from another point of view."

    Coyle concurred.

    "I think it's a great idea," he said. "There seems to be a lot of problems with the North Naples Fire District. I think it's essential for taxpayers' interest that somebody gets involved. It seems to me that more aggressive action is necessary."

    Collier County's Republican Party will meet to discuss the North Naples Fire District at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, in County Commission chambers.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
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    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  12. #52
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    Post Looking to the Future???

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    North Naples Fire Commission Chairman focuses on the future

    Tuesday, June 24, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    North Naples Fire Commission Chairman Christopher Lombardo would rather focus his energy and attention toward moving the fire district into the future.

    But some residents are more interested in solving the problems of the past.

    Lombardo was the guest speaker at an informal gathering hosted by the Property Owners Association of North Collier County that drew about 25 people Monday night.

    The main topic dealt with what some of those in attendance consider the chaotic financial conditions lingering in the department nearly 10 months after James Tobin left his post as fire chief on Aug. 29, 2002, in exchange for a $300,000 severance package.

    Lombardo expressed his concern regarding the bad rap he feels district firefighters are getting in the wake of the continuing controversy in the aftermath of Tobin's departure.

    North Naples firefighters should be commended and appreciated for their professionalism and service during such trying times, Lombardo said.

    It's time to move on, he stressed.

    "We've had a tumultuous fire department," he added. "The storm has passed. We're in a cleanup phase."

    With an FBI investigation under way and investigative inquiries by officials from the Collier County Sheriff's Office's Economic Crimes Unit and State Attorney's Office, some residents expressed how the controversies of the past administration — under Tobin's five-year tenure — continue to affect public reaction.

    The investigating authorities launched a probe of the fire department last fall. During Tobin's last two years as chief, he quarreled with the firefighters' union, allegedly turned district credit and debit cards to his personal use and ordered his assistant to do his college course work.

    Nick Hale, a North Naples resident for 13 years, said he was concerned with the problems at the fire district and wanted answers.

    "I don't think we came here to learn how good the firefighters are. We know they're good," said Hale, 78. "I agree we have to look forward. We also have to look back in the fire commission and fire chief."

    Lombardo told Monday night's audience that for years he was the only fire commissioner on the sidelines questioning the activity and decisions made by the Tobin administration.

    "We had a fire chief (Tobin) who certainly was interesting. He was charismatic," Lombardo said. "But I noticed early on that we had a significant anger management problem. I raised these issues four years ago. I was the lonesome voice out there. We've spent ... almost a year in dealing with the aftermath."

    In fact, Lombardo was one of two commissioners who voted against Tobin's $300,000 compensation payout, now the subject of legal challenge by a taxpayer challenge. Fire Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio also voted down the severance agreement.

    Lombardo pointed out that he was adamantly opposed to the way Tobin's departure was handled.

    "I didn't like the exit plan," he said. "I wanted an investigation done. I wanted to fire him for cause. That's not what happened."

    Some residents at the meeting urged Lombardo to share what he knew about the status of the FBI investigation. Lombardo declined to divulge any information.

    Janet Vasey, a North Naples government watchdog, filed a lawsuit against the fire district and Tobin to bar the department from paying the ex-chief the promised $300,000. She attended Monday night's meeting.

    Vasey raised concerns about the questions pertaining to the district's impact fee fund, which, fire district officials have concluded, was improperly used to purchase replacement items for the department.

    Money from impact fees is collected from charges imposed on new commercial or residential property. Florida law requires for those taxes to be used strictly by special districts and municipalities to purchase capital assets out of need for growth — not to replace equipment, such as a fire engine.

    "It's the lack of accountability," said Vasey, an outspoken Tobin critic. "Tobin did what he did, but three of fire commissioners allowed him to do this. The commissioners and chief knew what they were doing with impact fee money."

    Fire commissioners Ed Maguire, Steve Milligan and Henry Hamel voted to award Tobin the $300,000 severance.

    Lombardo concurred with Vasey.

    "The chief certainly knew the rules," he said.

    Vasey added, "The chief knew the rules; I fought him constantly."

    Lombardo tried to assure residents that the district has made progress.

    "We've already made certain adjustments," he said. "All we can do at this juncture is correct the problem."
    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. #53
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    Post More Improper Spending

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    Audit shows NNFD spent more than $200,000 improperly

    Wednesday, July 2, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    During a five-year period, more than $200,000 in expenditures were paid for with taxpayer money from the North Naples Fire District's impact fee fund that were either improper, questionable or lacked proper documentation, fire commissioners discovered Tuesday.

    The findings by an independent auditor and district staff were made during a special fire commission meeting to discuss the district's impact fee account, the subject of much criticism by some local community watchdogs.

    Fire Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio called for a formal investigation by the State Attorney's Office into the dozens of missing receipts and invoices that could not be located within the district's administrative offices.

    Rautio said she plans to contact State Attorney Steve Russell for guidance.

    "I have every intention of contacting Steve Russell to discuss what action should be taken about the apparent destruction and/or theft of numerous missing accounting records," Rautio said after the meeting. "I've been concerned since I've been a commissioner about the lack of records and the lack of organization of the records."

    Rautio warned commissioners that the missing documents in question could have grave implications for the department.

    "After looking at what I've looked at, I want to disclose right up front: I see a large issue here — it's called destruction and theft of public records," Rautio said Tuesday. "Now, do I just go (and say), 'I'm going to ignore this?' I think I'm duty-bound to report this to the State Attorney's Office about the theft or destruction of public records."

    The missing documents would provide the Fire District with an entire breakdown of purchases made that are now classified as "unidentified" items, district records reveal.

    Dozens of purchases made during the fiscal years starting in 1997 through 2001 were improper expenses charged to the impact fee fund, records show.

    The district's independent auditors, the Fort Myers accounting firm of Markham Norton Stroemer & Co., came across the findings as part of its annual review of the district's impact fee fund.

    Some of the improper or questionable expenses include a $1,400 computer purchased for ex-Fire Chief James Tobin, more than $19,000 in physical fitness equipment for two fire stations and a magazine subscription of $1,800, according to the findings.

    Commissioners agreed Tuesday to reimburse the impact fee fund by $210,823.94 with money from the department's general operating account.

    Rautio said she'd been contacted by a citizen who assured her that public documents within the district had "disappeared within a period of time." Rautio did not elaborate.

    Fire Commission Vice Chairman Ed Maguire, who presided over the meeting, said he was unaware of the records Rautio referred to.

    Maguire argued that although supporting documents were not available for the questionable items, it was customary, in the past, for fire commissioners to always have the material attached to checks before commissioners would sign off on payments, he said.

    "The only checks we sign with nothing attached are payroll checks," Maguire said.

    Commission Chairman Christopher Lombardo was absent from Tuesday's meeting.

    Purchases for which district staff could not locate backup documentation include receipts to support more than $550 in medical equipment, a $670 purchase made at an auto parts store and a $387 check made payable to Home Depot.

    More than a dozen purchases, including some to Ten-8 Fire Equipment, a Bradenton company that sells fire engines, were classified as "unidentified."

    Orly Stolts, the district's deputy fire chief, said though receipts and invoices were missing, he could easily provide commissioners with the information because he knew what most of the unidentified purchases were for.

    Rautio questioned Stolts' contention.

    "So you are lobbying for those things that are unidentified?" Rautio asked Stolts.

    Stolts was the point man during the transaction of a used North Naples fire engine that was sold to the fire department in Alma, Neb., for $40,000 in 1999. The truck was sold to Chris Becker, who was sheriff and fire chief of Alma at the time and an acquaintance of Stolts from his hometown. Stolts has maintained there was nothing wrong or illegal about the sale of the fire truck.

    Stolts said the engine had too much mileage, so North Naples sold it to the Alma Fire Department, a volunteer agency in a town of about 1,200 people.

    There was improper documentation on more than $30,000 in emergency radios. However, commissioners determined those purchases likely would have been impact-fund related because the radios came about after the county changed its network system, and the district had to get new radios.

    The missing documents raised the interest of at least one community leader.

    David Ellis, executive vice president of the Collier Building Industry Association, attended Tuesday's meeting to learn how the department planned to fix its financial mess, more than 10 months after James Tobin left his post as chief. The association is a watchdog group from the construction business that monitors how money from impact fees is spent.

    "We will be doing an independent examination of this to see if there's an alternative finding that we make," Ellis said during a meeting break.

    Impact fees are one-time taxes assessed and collected on new residential or commercial property. Per Florida law, impact fee money is solely to be used to purchase capital assets, such as a fire truck, as a result of growth within an agency or district.

    For example, purchasing replacement items such as firefighter uniforms do not qualify as a legitimate expense under the impact fee fund.

    But while Rautio said she wanted clear cut answers about documents and questionable purchases, Commissioner Henry Hamel urged the board to focus on fixing the district's financial problems.

    "We can't change what happened in the past," he said. "No amount of investigation is going to change what happened."

    Most of the purchases from Tuesday's review of the impact fee fund occurred under Tobin's five-year tenure.

    Tobin at one time kept the district's impact fee fund checkbook at his residence, records show. Checks from that account covered the time period from 1998-99 or the fiscal year ending 1999.

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

    Commissioners agreed Tuesday to deposit the $200,000-plus back into the district's impact fee account using money from the general account. Impact fees bring in about $1 million on average in revenues to the Fire District each 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.

  14. #54
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    Post Ex-Chief's Former Secretary receives Severance

    Naples Daily News

    North Naples Fire District severs ties with former chief's assistant
    Employee will receive $58,000 severance package after claiming she did ex-Fire Chief James Tobin's college coursework

    Wednesday, July 2, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    A North Naples Fire District employee, who claimed she did ex-Fire Chief James Tobin's college coursework, will collect more than $58,000 from the district as part of a settlement agreement approved Tuesday.

    Fire commissioners voted 3-1 to sever ties with Lisa Stefani, rejecting Fire Chief James Webb's recommendation to fire the 12-year employee.



    Lisa Stefani

    Commissioner Joyceanna "JA" Rautio cast the dissenting vote. Board Chairman Christopher Lombardo did not attend the meeting.

    As part of her severance package, Stefani, a former Tobin ally, will receive a hefty payday of $58,022.06, including accumulated sick leave and one-year salary within 30 days.

    But the $58,000-plus settlement is just part of what Stefani is entitled to under the agreement, which includes her educational expenses.

    Stefani did not attend the meeting. She was represented at the meeting by her Marco Island attorney, Eric Vasquez.

    Stefani, who worked under Tobin since he began his tenure as chief in 1997, accused Tobin last year of ordering her to do his college coursework while he pursued a bachelor's degree at International College, a private university with campuses in Naples and Fort Myers.

    Tobin has consistently denied that Stefani ever performed any coursework on his behalf.

    Stefani was paid an annual salary of $55,462.70, or the equivalent of more than $26 per hour.

    Stefani also attended International and recently graduated with a bachelor's degree in executive management, the same degree she claims she helped Tobin obtain. North Naples taxpayers picked up the entire tab of $11,126.64 for Stefani's educational expenses, records show.

    And taxpayers will likely never recoup that money.

    Under the terms of Stefani's settlement agreement, commissioners agreed to forgive Stefani for the entire sum of the educational expenses, meaning she won't have to pay back one penny.

    Webb, who became the district chief earlier this year, was represented by Tampa attorney Reynolds Allen, who told fire commissioners the chief had sufficient reason to fire Stefani for cause.

    Commissioners Ed Maguire, Steve Milligan and Henry Hamel didn't seem to share that sentiment. They cited concern for exorbitant attorney fees from Stefani's lawyer and from the district's legal counsel as the reason they preferred to award Stefani the money.

    Allen cautioned that if the board fired Stefani and she appealed, legal fees for the fire district could exceed $50,000.

    ". . . From what I see and have heard, we'd be financially better to make the settlement," Milligan said.

    Hamel added, "Everything that we're faced with tells us that the lawyers' fees will be higher than the settlement."

    Rautio, a longtime critic of Tobin and the most outspoken member of the fire commission, said she could not agree to pay more than $58,000 to Stefani.

    "It's the taxpayers' money," she said. "I think we had enough here to fire her for cause. I can't support that concept on behalf of the taxpayers."

    Webb said there were a number of sufficient reasons to terminate Stefani's employment.

    Among them, he said, was an instance when Stefani inappropriately removed original records from the district and gave them to a person not employed by the department. Other reasons, he cited, included Stefani failing to follow instructions and provide copies of board meeting agendas, and not returning to work after being released early from jury duty and getting paid for an eight-hour day. Stefani also failed to remove former district employees from the district's group medical insurance plan, he said.

    Webb proposed firing Stefani by offering her a four months' severance payment of $18,500 in addition to $1,089 in sick leave. Of the $18,500, Stefani would have had to reimburse the district $1,912 in educational expenses for one class she was enrolled in at International College during the past year.

    Webb contended that because it wasn't until this year the fire district adopted educational policies, the fair thing to do would be to have Stefani reimburse the department for the courses the district paid for within the last year.

    Under Webb's proposal, Stefani would have walked away with $17,677, in lieu of the more than $58,000 she was awarded Tuesday.

    Under the agreement approved by commissioners, the district is obliged to pay Stefani her hourly rate of about $26 in the event she is called back in to the district to assist department staff with any unfinished business. Furthermore, the district agrees to pay Stefani's legal bills if she's called in to testify on any current or future district-related matters.

    Also under the agreement, Stefani vows to fully cooperate with the district. She will return all equipment, records, books, compact discs, supplies and books belonging to the district. Stefani also will not criticize the fire board or refuse to cooperate fully with attorneys or representatives of the fire department.

    Tuesday was not the first time commissioners agreed to use taxpayer money to pay Stefani's expenses.

    Last fall, commissioners agreed to reimburse Stefani for up to $2,000 in legal fees because Stefani told commissioners she was forced to hire Vasquez, her attorney, as a result of an active FBI investigation of the district.

    Stefani was questioned by the FBI and other state law enforcement probing district finances.

    Law enforcement investigated the fire department just a couple of months after Tobin's controversial exit on Aug. 29, 2002, with an approved $300,000 severance payout.

    A taxpayer lawsuit filed by Janet Vasey, a local government watchdog, is blocking the district from paying Tobin and the matter is tied up in the courts. Attorneys for the district, Vasey and Tobin have agreed to mediate the case sometime this summer.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
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    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  15. #55
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    Post Mediation

    Tobin severance agreement lawsuit going to mediation

    Saturday, August 16, 2003
    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com

    There is no need to continue the legal squabble over the $300,000 severance agreement awarded to former North Naples Fire Chief James Tobin.

    That's the contention behind a motion recently filed by Fred Hardt, the Naples attorney representing a local government watchdog in a legal battle about the $300,000.

    Hardt filed a motion for summary judgment, asking a Collier Circuit judge to rule in favor of Janet Vasey, the North Naples taxpayer suing the North Naples fire district and Tobin.

    The legal maneuver is a way to persuade the judge to side with Vasey without the case going to trial, Hardt said.
    government watchdog Janet Vasey

    Vasey's complaint alleges that Tobin's $300,000 severance package, struck Aug. 29, 2002, behind closed doors, was a violation of the Sunshine Law. On that day, Tobin agreed to leave his $94,000-a-year job in exchange for the $300,000.

    Hardt and attorneys for the fire district and Tobin have agreed to enter into mediation Aug. 29, in an attempt to settle the case.

    Tobin was due the first $150,000 installment Oct. 1, 2002, but after Vasey filed suit, a judge placed an injunction on the lump sum, preventing the fire department from disbursing the money. The former chief is supposed to receive the second $150,000 payment on Oct. 1.

    The five-member fire commission agreed to send fire Commissioner Ed Maguire, Tobin and attorneys for both sides into a closed-door session to discuss Tobin's contract buyout. Because the Aug. 29, 2002, meeting occurred behind closed doors away from the public eye, it violates Florida's open meeting laws, Hardt contends.

    "The commission filed a resolution to send in a negotiating team — that's an official act," said Hardt, who filed the motion Aug. 11. "You can't have a negotiation in private. It has to be a duly noticed meeting and it has to be open to the public. A record has to be made like any other public meeting."

    John Cardillo, the East Naples lawyer representing the fire district, recently advised fire commissioners to enter into a non-binding mediation proceeding with Hardt and Bass. Commissioners agreed, saying mediation was the best option for the fire department at this point.

    Tobin left the fire district under a cloud of controversy last year. The former chief was accused of, among other things, harassing and retaliating against firefighters and ordering an employee to do his college course work.

    Attorney Ray Bass, who represents Tobin in the fight for the $300,000 severance, assured this week that he is confident the judge will side with his client.

    Hardt's legal strategy "has no merit whatsoever," Bass said.

    Because only one fire commissioner attended the closed-door meeting with Tobin and lawyers for both sides, there was no violation of the Sunshine Law, Bass maintains.

    "I have very high confidence" in this case, Bass said. "One of us isn't right here. It's like saying the sky is green. Is it green or is it blue? We're both looking at the same sky but we just don't agree on the color. So, the judge will have to tell us what color it is."

    The North Naples fire commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 21, 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
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    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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    Post It just goes on and on and on!!!!

    Mediation hearing nears for Tobin-fire district dispute, but may not resolve the issue

    Monday, August 18, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com


    The attorney representing ex-North Naples Fire Chief James Tobin says he is less than optimistic about an upcoming mediation hearing intended to resolve a dispute over $300,000 severance he says his client is owed.

    Attorney Ray Bass contends neither he nor Tobin are willing to budge on the $300,000 severance deal that the majority of North Naples fire commissioners agreed to grant Tobin nearly one year ago.

    "That's what was agreed upon," Bass said. "The district has no legal excuse for not paying it."

    If Bass and Tobin maintain their tough stance, then mediation may not work, said attorney Fred Hardt, who represents the taxpayer who is suing the department and Tobin to stop payment of the $300,000.

    "If Mr. Bass is going to take that position, we're wasting our time," Hardt said.

    Bass has agreed to participate in a nonbinding mediation hearing starting Wednesday, Aug. 20, along with Hardt and John Cardillo, the attorney representing the fire district.

    Bass said he's not sure mediation will settle or resolve the issue.

    "The nature of mediation is to consider offers on both sides," Bass said. "The problem with that is it doesn't mean a whole lot until it's voted on by the (fire) board."

    Hardt said he intends to offer an alternative resolution to the dispute.

    "I'm going to propose that the parties agree to submit the matter to the Attorney General for opinion," Hardt said. "A governmental body such as the North Naples fire district can request an opinion from the Attorney General. It's free. I'd be willing to abide by that opinion."

    Hardt also indicated that should there be a breakdown in communication during the mediation hearing, he is prepared for further legal wrangling.

    "Let's assume there's an impasse in the mediation. We can go ahead and have the motions heard and go to trial if need be," he said.

    In June, at the urging of Cardillo, the five-member fire board agreed to enter into mediation as a step toward resolving the yearlong controversy.

    The session will be held in private, without a court reporter or other official record, Cardillo said.

    Hardt said that, under Florida law, mediation proceedings are confidential.

    Bass recently said he and Tobin would walk out of mediation proceedings should the fire district have a court reporter in the room.

    Janet Vasey is the North Naples taxpayer who filed suit last year to block the fire district from paying Tobin the first $150,000 lump sum originally due Oct. 1, 2002. The second $150,000 is supposed to go to Tobin this Oct. 1.

    Bass maintains that Tobin should have already received a check for the first $150,000, less the $31,160.72 check that Tobin was cut last fall for four months' severance pay, as per his contract with the fire department.

    Vasey's suit alleges that the fire department violated the state's Sunshine Law when one fire commissioner, Tobin and attorneys for both sides entered into a closed-door negotiation of Tobin's contract buyout. The Sunshine Law requires public entities to hold meetings in the presence of the public.

    Tobin left his post as chief Aug. 29, 2002, following the decision to grant him $300,000 in exchange for his resignation from his $94,000-a-year job.

    Bass recently blasted Vasey's attempt to stop Tobin from getting paid while not protesting the recent actions of the fire board, whose members recently gave Tobin's former assistant a $58,000 severance package.

    The majority of fire commissioners in July awarded Lisa Stefani, who worked under Tobin for five years, the $58,000-plus severance.

    "Mrs. Vasey has taken a position by suing (Tobin) that this is tax money for a public employee's work and is not taking that position with Lisa Stefani," Bass said. "(Vasey's) position is spiteful to Tobin rather than being principled."

    Bass said Vasey has no legal standing in her lawsuit.

    "That's not even a colorable claim of a Sunshine Law violation," Bass said. "There was only one commissioner in the room. There was no negotiation."

    He added, "(The commissioner) came back out in a public meeting and the commission voted on it. They heard lots of public discussion about it and they voted."

    Fire Commissioners Ed Maguire, Steve Milligan and Henry Hamel voted in favor of Tobin's $300,000 severance. Commissioners Joyceanna "JA" Rautio and Christopher Lombardo cast the dissenting votes.

    Tobin also is seeking reimbursement of legal fees from Vasey. Bass noted Tobin's legal bills will exceed $20,000.

    Rautio said she supported the mediation proceeding "only upon the advice of Cardillo."

    "I find it curious that this is not court-ordered but Cardillo-ordered," she said. "Perhaps Cardillo is being optimistic. My position is former Chief Tobin should have been fired for cause and had no payment."

    Hamel was optimistic about the upcoming hearing.

    "I think mediation is supposed to be a joining together of two sides," he said. "There has to be some give and take. I suspect our side will ask for some give and take on the part of the recipient, which is the chief."

    Tobin left the fire department last year under a cloud of controversy. The scandals ranged from continued quarrels with the firefighters' union to his misuse of credit cards from the taxpayer-funded district.

    Hardt said he intends to file an amendment to Vasey's lawsuit alleging that members of the fire commission used a go-between to communicate prior to the $300,000 deal.

    The Sunshine Law also makes it illegal for elected officials to use a third party or go-between to communicate among each other.

    Sometime after the mediation hearing, Hardt said he will begin taking depositions, or sworn witness statements. He expects the depositions to shed some light on whether commissioners used an intermediary to communicate, he said.

    Bass said he has vast experience with Sunshine Law cases and is confident the courts will side with Tobin if the matter isn't settled in mediation.

    "This wasn't a Sunshine Law violation. This is silliness," he said. "You can file a lawsuit and say anything but at some point in time you need to put up or shut up."
    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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    Post GOP Chairman Watches Fire Commission Closely

    GOP chairman to put North Naples fire commissioners on the hot seat

    Sunday, August 31, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    The Collier County Republican Party has put on notice the three North Naples fire commissioners who are up for re-election next year.

    "We're going to be replacing them," Carr said of the fire commissioners. "We're going to be replacing people who aren't doing a good job."

    The GOP's executive committee at a meeting Monday, Sept. 8, will consider a resolution demanding that the three fire commissioners not seek another term in public office. The resolution was recently passed by the GOP board. The executive committee has final say over local GOP decisions.

    The goal of the resolution, Carr said, is for the executive committee to approve finding and recruiting qualified Republican candidates for those offices.

    The North Naples Fire District has been involved in scandal for more than two years. Former Chief James Tobin was recently awarded a $215,000 severance package by the majority of the fire board, despite public outcry and stern criticism from local leaders.

    All five North Naples fire commissioners have been invited to attend the executive committee's meeting at which they'll be asked to take a pledge vowing to be accountable and to govern honestly in the future. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. inside the Collier County Commission chambers.

    Carr said he continues to call for the ouster of fire Commissioners Ed Maguire, Steve Milligan and Henry Hamel. Maguire, Milligan and Hamel are past Tobin supporters who are up for re-election in 2004. The three also voted in favor of Tobin's initial $300,000 severance deal last year.

    Maguire, Milligan and Hamel have each said they have not decided whether they will campaign for another four-year term in office.

    Earlier this year, Carr created a three-member committee to look into what he termed were improprieties taking place within the North Naples Fire District. For the most part, most of the fire board "ignored the improprieties Tobin committed," Carr said.

    The panel is made up of Janet Vasey, a local government watchdog who sued the North Naples Fire District over Tobin's initial settlement; Tom Cannon, chairman of the East Naples Fire District; and Chuck McMahon, chairman of the Golden Gate Fire District.

    McMahon said the intent of the committee is to educate the public about their local fire districts.

    "This is to help the general public understand what is going on in the various districts," McMahon said. "You want the public to know that you want quality people in there because it's a life safety issue."

    The public should pay attention to who is running for office and vote for the best candidate, McMahon said.

    "Look at their backgrounds and pay attention," he said. "People should be interested in who the fire commissioners are on the ballot."

    Vasey sued Tobin and the fire district to prevent the fire department from paying Tobin a $300,000 severance agreement awarded to Tobin last year.

    The recent $215,000 settlement check for Tobin also meant that Vasey agreed to abandon her lawsuit against the fire district and Tobin. The fire department agreed to hand Vasey $15,000 for her legal fees incurred as a result of the lawsuit. Vasey recently expressed frustration about the settlement agreement.

    "I do regret we weren't more successful in recovering more money for the taxpayers. I did what I could," she said.

    During Tobin's five-year tenure with the fire department, he was accused of using debit/credit cards for personal use, ordering his assistant to do his college course work, and harassing and retaliating against firefighters.

    In the past, Carr has also criticized fire commission Chairman Christopher Lombardo, whose seat will not be up for re-election until 2006. The only fire commissioner to consistently demand accountability has been Joyceanna "J.A." Rautio, Carr has contended.

    Each of the five commissioners won their previous election without competition at the ballot box — Lombardo and Rautio in 2002, and Maguire, Milligan and Hamel in 2000.

    Carr described his motives for insisting on holding local public servants accountable.

    "I'm tired of the corruption," Carr said. "People who have been elected to office have a responsibility to supervise officials under their control."

    He added, "If government is not honest, it's just a bunch of looters using government as a shield. I am going to keep fighting to have a local government we can be proud of. That's all I want out of them."
    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. #58
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post Tobin is a NO SHOW

    NNFD: Tobin absent from interview session with prosecutors

    Saturday, September 6, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    On the advice of his attorney, former North Naples Fire Chief James Tobin did not attend a voluntary interview session with local prosecutors last week.

    Ray Bass, the lawyer representing Tobin, said his client was absent from a meeting with investigators from the State Attorney's Office who had asked Tobin, along with other fire officials, to provide statements.

    Bass said he had legitimate reasons to decline Tobin's attendance.

    "I had a discussion with the investigators on it," he said. "They were not willing to give me the information as to what this was about, so I told them that without the information, they could not interview him."

    Tobin was among at least seven North Naples fire officials whom local prosecutors invited for interviews as part of the continuing criminal investigation of the fire department.

    One fire commissioner who went in for questioning is calling the probe serious business.

    Fire Commissioners Ed Maguire, Steve Milligan, Henry Hamel, Christopher Lombardo and Joyceanna "JA" Rautio and district Finance Director Becky Pogan were called in for questioning by the Collier County Sheriff's Office's Economic Crimes Unit, a division of the State Attorney's Office.

    Sgt. David White is the unit's investigator assigned to the criminal probe.

    White confirmed this week that his office had conducted interviews but declined to disclose particulars of the case, saying that it was "an ongoing investigation."

    Assistant State Attorney Norman O'Rourke also would not discuss the case.

    "I don't comment on matters that have been referred to the office for investigation," he said.

    Recently, Tobin and a local taxpayer settled a lawsuit filed against Tobin and the fire department soon after Tobin left his chief's tenure last year. As part of the settlement, Tobin walked away with a $215,000 check, in addition to the $31,160.72 he had already received.

    Bass said he told investigators that they had the option of issuing a subpoena for Tobin to provide statements, meaning that any statements provided to prosecutors could later not be used against Tobin.

    Investigators declined Bass' request, according to Bass.

    "They said they weren't going to subpoena him or grant anybody use of immunity," Bass said. "I don't see (the interviews) as a very significant thing. It was an invitation to be questioned."

    Investigators conducted the interviews Aug. 27 and 28.

    Rautio described how last week's interview with investigators was nothing to be taken lightly.

    Rautio said she went in for questioning on the morning of Aug. 27 without an attorney by her side and against the recommendations of John Cardillo, the attorney representing the North Naples fire district.

    "I chose not to have an attorney present because I don't need one," said Rautio, adding that she was interviewed for more than three hours.

    Fire commissioners recently agreed to set aside up to $500 for each fire district official to have an attorney present during questioning.

    Rautio offered a brief account of her more than three hours of statements.

    "My impression is, as I've always known, that this is very serious business and that I cannot comment on any of the questions or issues discussed," she said.

    Rautio noted she could not elaborate about what questions were asked or what the investigation pertains to because she is bound by the law.

    Hamel, who has been in New Jersey for most of the summer, said he did not show up for questioning because he was out of town.

    "I told them I was up here (in New Jersey) and that I would be back later," Hamel said of his phone conversation with investigators. "They said, 'OK.' "

    Hamel said he plans to offer statements to the State Attorney's Office sometime next week, after Thursday's fire commission meeting. He also said he will probably seek legal representation.

    Lombardo said he had rescheduled his meeting with investigators for sometime next week and had no knowledge about what he would be asked.

    "I have no idea what this is about and I'm not going to speculate," he said.

    Lombardo also indicated he had hired Naples lawyer Nelson Faerber to represent him during questioning.

    Maguire and Milligan were unavailable for comment. Pogan, the district's finance director, confirmed that she went in for questioning with investigators last week and alongside Domenic Lucarelli, the Naples lawyer she retained.

    Last October, an FBI special agent and White, the Economic Crimes Unit investigator, interviewed several fire commissioners and seized fire district computers.

    The criminal probe of the district began nearly two months after Tobin left the fire department Aug. 29, 2002. Tobin, at the time, agreed to leave his post in exchange for a $300,000 severance package. The last two years of his five-year tenure with the North Naples Fire District were clouded in controversy.

    Bass, the attorney for Tobin, stressed that just because Tobin did not provide statements to prosecutors does not mean that Tobin has done anything wrong.

    "Chief Tobin has nothing to hide," Bass said. "But if I'm going to be representing him, this is the best professionally competent way of doing it."

    Although Tobin was concerned about public perception if he did not meet with investigators, Bass said he ultimately made a judgment call, advising the former chief not to attend the interview.

    "I'm not concerned about perception," Bass said. "It may not be very good public relations, but lawyers are not concerned about PR."
    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. #59
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post Letter to the Editor

    NAPLES DAILY NEWS

    Editorial: North Naples Fire Board
    Carr stopped one seat short

    Sunday, September 7, 2003

    The Naples Daily News



    Collier County Republican Party Chairman Mike Carr is drawing a line for positive change at the North Naples Fire Department. He is daring the three fire board incumbents whose terms are up next year to seek re-election, by issuing a rallying cry for the GOP to jump into the technically non-partisan fray and boot them out.

    By defending former fire chief Jim Tobin and then, after a private bargaining session, voting to pay him $300,000 to leave last August, the official conduct of Ed Maguire, Henry Hamel and Steve Milligan has not been in the public interest.

    With the firefighters union so in control of fire board politics, it is possible the elections will produce new faces who are policy clones. The GOP's involvement may offer an important check and balance.

    Still, for the clean sweep that Carr and many citizens hope for, a heftier broom is in order. If a fourth incumbent fire board member, Chris Lombardo, were to step aside as well — and run anew for the seat he won by default after a challenger from Pelican Bay withdrew last fall — the 2004 election season would be complete.

    Only the fifth member, Joyceanna Rautio, has consistently carried the cudgel in the public interest, day in and day out.
    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. #60
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default

    GOP seeks resignations of 3 on N. Naples Fire District commission
    Two others make pledge of honest goverment

    Tuesday, September 9, 2003

    By MIREIDY FERNANDEZ, mmfernandez@naplesnews.com



    The same day two North Naples fire commissioners made a pledge of honest government before the Collier County Republican Party, the GOP called for the immediate resignations of three other fire commissioners.

    On Monday, members of the Republican Executive Committee agreed not only to recruit new fire commissioners to run for office in the North Naples taxpayer-funded fire district, but also adopted a resolution requesting the ouster of Ed Maguire, Steve Milligan and Henry Hamel from public office.

    "They turned their head the other way for years," said GOP Chairman Mike Carr, criticizing the lack of supervision by the three fire commissioners during James Tobin's five-year tenure as chief.

    Maguire, Milligan and Hamel did not attend Monday's GOP meeting, though they had been invited with sufficient notice, Carr noted.

    "They had plenty of time, plenty of knowledge and plenty of opportunity to come before this board," Carr said. "They all knew that failure to come would result in this."

    North Naples fire commissioners Joyceanna "JA" Rautio and Christopher Lombardo appeared before the GOP Executive Committee on Monday.

    Rautio and Lombardo took a pledge of honest government by swearing on a Bible, agreeing to uphold the laws and responsibility of their public offices for the remainder of their three years as fire commissioners.

    Chuck McMahon, the fire commission chairman for the Golden Gate Fire District, and Tom Cannon, who is chairman of the East Naples Fire District, also made the same pledge at the request of Lombardo, who spoke up and asked to have McMahon and Cannon participate.

    Maguire, Milligan and Hamel have been staunch Tobin supporters. Tobin left the North Naples Fire District last year in exchange for a $300,000 severance voted by on Maguire, Milligan and Hamel. Rautio and Lombardo cast the dissenting votes. Just recently, Tobin walked away with a $215,000 settlement in lieu of the $300,000, bringing to an end a yearlong legal battle over the money.

    The local GOP on Monday called for the official and immediate resignations of Maguire, Milligan and Hamel. The Republican Party also vowed to recruit future Republican candidates to enter fire commission races when those seats become vacant.

    "Our duty as a Republican body is to find and recruit fine candidates," Carr said.

    Fred Hardt, the GOP's state committeeman, said that if the three fire commissioners resign, state law would require for the two remaining fire commissioners to select replacements. North Naples fire commissioners are paid $500 per month or $6,000 a year. They also receive a lucrative medical benefits package.

    During the meeting, a three-member panel assembled by the GOP and consisting of McMahon, Cannon and local government watchdog Janet Vasey made a presentation of their findings pertaining to the North Naples Fire District.

    Earlier this year, Carr selected McMahon, Cannon and Vasey to look into the continuing problems of the North Naples Fire District.

    At the meeting, Cannon and McMahon discussed the function and responsibility of Florida fire districts, while Vasey rehashed the numerous controversies of Tobin's last two years in office.

    Some of the scandals involving Tobin included how he turned credit/debit cards to his personal use, instructed an assistant to do his college course work and admitted to retaliating against, discriminating against and harassing members of the firefighters' union, Vasey pointed out.

    Vasey stressed three problem areas within the district as the reason why the department's finances were left in shambles after Tobin left.

    "There was lack of knowledge of the rules. Charges were not investigated or if costs were against state statutes," Vasey said, adding that there was also a lack of knowledge of Sunshine Laws, the state open meeting laws.

    "We have that thanks to three of five fire commissioners," Vasey said. "There was a lack of accountability. As a group, the North Naples Fire District did not look into the problems until after Tobin was gone."

    Rautio, who was elected to her first term as fire commissioner in 2002, underscored the progress in the fire department one year after Tobin's exit. She also said the fire district was in good hands thanks to the leadership of current fire Chief James Webb and Finance Director Becky Pogan.

    Rautio stressed how the department's financial audits are improving.

    "We're making great progress," she said. "I'd like to get some new faces on the board to continue to help me with this."
    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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