Admittedly placing their faith in Sheriff Ken Jenne, the Broward County Commission on Tuesday voted to move forward with a plan giving Jenne administrative control over the county's fire-rescue division.
Under the proposal, the county would contract with the Broward Sheriff's Office for Fire-Rescue services. The exact terms of the contract, including how much the county might save, will be resolved in contract negotiations expected to begin almost immediately.
Passionately presenting his case before the commission, Jenne said bringing Fire-Rescue and law enforcement units under the same administrative umbrella would allow the county to save money while enhancing communications, improving service and eliminating duplication of many administrative functions. He promised a joining of the Fire-Rescue and sheriff's office would result in "the most progressive public safety organization in history."
"In my mind, combining these services will be good government and will be the right thing for Broward County," Jenne said. He noted there would be no job losses and no immediate change to the 555-member Fire-Rescue organizational structure, but maintained the public safety in Broward County would soon be a leaner, more responsive organization.
"We can react faster, more effectively and more efficiently," he said.
Ten public speakers also addressed the board, nine of them supporting the measure. In their comments before voting 8 to 1, commissioners uniformly praised Jenne's ability and character, with the bulk of the debate being on how the county would respond if Jenne left the sheriff's office. Commissioner Lori Parrish proposed a clause in the contract allowing the county to dissolve the agreement 90 days after Jenne left office, but that proposal failed.
"I don't hate it," Parrish said of the decision, "but if I vote my intellect, I know that public policy should not be based on the strength of character of one official."
Jenne said he appreciated the commissioners' confidence in him, adding: "The truth is that Broward Sheriff's Office is a dynamic institution with layers and layers of great administrators."
Jenne said the contract's could include escape clauses to make the commissioners more comfortable with the arrangement, but stressed that the agreement would be tied to the office of county sheriff, not to him personally.
"It's unfair to my successor, it's unfair to the firefighters," he said. "I'm assuming my successor will be better than I am."