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Florida Keys News
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Chief concerns

KEY LARGO -- The Key Largo Volunteer Fire-Rescue Department board of directors have delayed the election for a fire chief following a dispute over qualifications.

Challenging longstanding Fire Chief Sergio Garcia for the spot is former board member Mike Jenkins.

When Jenkins applied for the spot, he was under the impression that the qualifications were simply to be a member of the department for at least five years and to be in good standing. But according to the group's elections committee, the qualifications were updated.

"Your opinion is wrong," Garcia told Jenkins during last Wednesday's board meeting.

The elections committee recently found that Jenkins was not qualified because he lacked some incident management certifications. Jenkins, however, said the new qualifications were discussed by a committee last year but never approved by the board.

The department's clerk spent most of last week's meeting shuffling papers looking for documents to determine whether the new qualifications were adopted by the board. But no one had easy access to the department's minutes at the meeting to make that determination.

Jenkins said he can't be disqualified on something that was never approved.

Board members called the process embarrassing.

Jenkins reminded the board that he has many years of fire service, including serving other departments as an officer.

The department's pro bono attorney, Andy Tobin, suggested allowing the fire department's membership to decide if Jenkins was qualified to run for chief.

"That's the most democratic way to do it," he said. "Let the members decide."

With the board looking at possibly reopening the qualification process, the chief's election could be delayed until February.

Newly-elected Key Largo Fire-EMS Board member Bob Thomas advised the board to wait and not make a decision.

"You can't make a decision hastily," he said.

The district contracts with the department for fire and EMS services.

Jenkins said Garcia had unfair advantage in the qualifications process.

"The chief cannot write his own job description," Jenkins said.

In other news, the Key Largo Fire-EMS Board was expected to meet Monday night to swear in new members and begin discussing how to the district could qualify for a cut of sales tax money the county secured through a ballot referendum.

jgore@keysnews.com

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