Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
District might sue former fire department for assets

KEY LARGO -- A yearlong struggle between the former Key Largo fire department and the Key Largo Fire-EMS District may finally end up in the courtroom.

On Nov. 4, the district voted 3-1, with board members Tony Allen dissenting and Jennifer Miller absent, to take all legal remedies possible to empty the bank account of the old fire department and give it to the new department.

The former fire department lost its contract with the district in the spring due primarily to management concerns. A new fire department was formed by the Key Largo Ambulance Corps made mostly of the same firefighters, but with different leadership. The Ambulance Corps also contracts with the district.

The old department still has assets, including donations collected at boot drives and the property upon which Fire Station 24 sits as well as a small building next to the station. The former department also makes car and insurance payments on a sport utility vehicle, which served as the ex-fire chief's vehicle. The former department and the district have been agreeing to short-term leases of the station property until a permanent deal can be worked out.

District board member Bob Thomas last week called on the former fire department to hand over its remaining assets to the new department, saying they belong to the public. As for the real estate, Thomas said that should be deeded over for no more than $1, according to a resolution being prepared for the district.

Theron Simmons, the district's counsel, told the Free Press the district believes donations were given to the department for firefighting purposes, and since the former department is no longer operating, the monies should go to the department that is functioning.

Though a lawsuit isn't expected to be filed before the district's Monday, Nov. 18, meeting, Simmons was given the authority to move forward with one if he decides.

However, Simmons said he would be inclined to hold off on any filings if board member George Mirabella can foster a compromise. So far, though, that seems doubtful, he said.

Simmons couldn't get anywhere with the former department's attorney, Russ Yagel, so the district asked Mirabella to speak directly to the old department. Mirabella has tried calling the former department's president, Frank Conklin, but Conklin told the Free Press he doesn't want to talk to Mirabella, who was the deciding vote in canceling his department's contract.

"Key Largo is never going to get the same service it had under us," Conklin said last week. "I will continue to make waves internally to get what's best for Key Largo."

Conklin said he isn't interested in giving assets to the district since the old department is still figuring out its future. He said he plans to let his opinions be heard at the district's strategic planning workshop, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Key Largo Library.

jgore@keysnews.com

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