Longwood may shed key job at City Hall

By Christine Selvaggi Baumann | Special to the Sentinel
Posted July 31, 2003


Longwood residents in November may get the chance to peel a layer of bureaucracy off their city government.

City commissioners are considering asking voters to abolish a senior management position -- public-safety director -- created six years ago, in part, to thwart a county takeover of police and fire services -- a takeover that never came to fruition.

"I have an idea what the public-safety director position was supposed to do, but whether or not it happened, I don't know," City Administrator John Drago said.

Longwood voters approved creation of a public-safety office and director's job in 1997. The city appointed Terry Baker, then assistant police chief, to the job in 1998.

On July 7, Baker resigned amid questions that he charged $1,800 of inappropriate purchases, including a suit, to city credit cards. Baker has since repaid the city.

As public-safety director, Baker was the liaison between the city administrator and the fire and police chiefs, an unusual position for a city of 14,000.

Garry Briese, executive director of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and a former Orange County Fire Rescue battalion chief, said a public-safety director should help set policy -- a task more commonly needed to organize a multitude of departments in much larger cities.

"Their job is to work with the two chiefs to help run departments," he said. "It is unusual for most cities of that size to have a director of public safety."

None of Seminole County's other six cities has such a post. Rather, police and fire chiefs report directly to the city manager.

Longwood fire Chief Charles Chapman said the position could have streamlined government operations, but it created an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy instead.

"I think it was a grand experiment that didn't pan out," Chapman said. "I personally don't feel it is needed and think it will help operations if we go back to the way we used to be."

Chapman said he lost his direct connection with the city administrator and commissioners, the "true decision-makers" in the city.

"That left me sort of out in the cold. I like being in more direct contact with the head ofthecity. It lessens the chance of miscommunication or misunderstanding."

Police Chief Tom Jackson said he understood the intent of the position, but it didn't turn out the way he envisioned, either.

"They wanted to streamline the administrational process and commingle certain things . . . but philosophies and theories on paper just don't work in the real world."

Drago said the position, paying $79,306 annually, was aimed at reducing the number of people reporting directly to the city administrator and to guard the city from county inquiries of a police and fire-services consolidation.

"That didn't sit well with residents, and they thought a department would strengthen aspects of the city, so it couldn't be easily contracted away," he said. Drago added that no suchinquiries were made.

Amid the lukewarm response from the chiefs and now a vacant position, commissioners requested a question be prepared for voters asking if the public-safety office and its sole position should be abolished.

"Our city is too small a city, in terms of the overall structure, to have another reporting level," Commissioner John C. Maingot said. "Operations would be a lot more efficient . . . if the chiefs of police and fire report directly."

The board is expected to decide in September whether to present the issue to voters on the Nov. 7 ballot.