February 6, 2019

KEY LARGO — The fire department policies brought forward for approval by the Key Largo Fire Rescue & Emergency Medical Services District commissioners were temporarily shelved during last week’s meeting after the legality of departmental policy review was questioned.

Local activist and sewer board official Sue Heim said during public comment that the district commissioners do not have approval authority over the “standard operating guidelines,” according to public records she obtained from the district’s fire service provider.

Under pressure from Heim, commissioners tabled reviewing policies until next meeting and will do so at the recommendation of their legal counsel as bulk items under review/discussion on the agenda rather than motion/approval.

The authority of the district commission has been called into question since before the November 2018 election, when some seated commissioners and candidates argued that the board’s role is strictly financial.

The district levies taxes on property owners within the district boundaries and contracts with the nonprofit Key Largo Volunteer Ambulance Corps and its affiliated Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department to provide emergency response services.

Chief Don Bock, who leads the fire department and ambulance corps, has obtained outside counsel to review the district’s contract terms now that some commissioners want to review his policies after the state issued a critical report about departmental shortcomings.

Luke Savage, an attorney with Allen Norton & Blue, a labor and employment firm, wrote in an email to Bock that nothing within the contract provides the district with approval authority on departmental operations.

“Rather, the only input the district has under the contract is, upon submission to the district may provide advice and comment,” Savage wrote in his email to Bock.

He wrote that the department shall give significant weight and consideration to the district’s advice and comments.

Bock said the fire department has not been invoiced for Savage’s contract review, and the current department budget does not include money for legal fees.

In other news:

• Commissioners discussed uniform signage on all district property, including ambulances, as well as the cost for signage on Station 24. The expense information may be attached to the next meeting agenda.

• At least two of the commissioners proposed that the fire department and ambulance corps research automating some accounting work in an effort to reduce the roughly $44,000 annual fee.

Bock reported that he’s compiling information for consultation. Commissioners did not delineate a timeline but said an accounting firm representative may be brought to a future meeting.

• The district commissioners will be assigned specific email addresses per seat.

The next Key Largo Fire Rescue & Emergency Medical Services meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, Feb. 11. The meetings are held at Station 24 located at 1 East Road in Key Largo. For more information, visit klfirerescueems.com.

tjava@keysnews.com