NAPLES — This time around it looks like the effort to split the Naples Police and Fire Department in two is almost a sure thing.
During a workshop Monday afternoon, the Naples City Council expressed unanimous support for a proposal to divide the department into distinct police and fire departments with separate directors. Two years ago the City Council voted 4-3 against a similar proposal, in part because of concerns about adding to the city’s bureaucracy during an economic downturn.
“I think it’s almost a no-brainer to let them have their own departments,” Mayor Bill Barnett said during Monday’s short discussion.
City Councilman Gary Price, who voted against the 2008 proposal, said the difference between then and now is “a couple of years; a better perspective; different staff, personnel.”
“I like to think of myself as someone who is willing to change his mind,” Price said.
City staff will now prepare an ordinance, which must go through two votes by the City Council before becoming official. City Manager Bill Moss said that will probably happen sometime in December, although it could be sooner.
Moss pushed for the 2008 proposal as well, but said Monday that he didn’t believe it had been presented well.
“It’s nice to see,” Moss said of the Council’s support on Monday. “It’s more of a testimony to the qualifications of our police chief and fire chief.”
The city’s police and fire departments were merged in 1995, shortly after then-Fire Chief Tom Smith and then-Police Chief Paul Reble retired. After the consolidation, the department director was called the Chief of Police and Emergency Services, and fire operations were managed by a deputy chief.
Moss, overall Department Chief Tom Weschler, and Fire Chief Steve McInerny agree that, historically, the fire department has gotten the short end of the stick under the consolidated set-up because the department director has always come from the police side.
Separating the two departments will cost little, if anything, Moss maintains. Shared administrative staff will stick with the police department, and will help the fire department when needed, Moss said.
Although technically McInerny reports to Weschler, since he was hired in August 2009, he’s been, in effect, reporting directly to Moss. It’s a set-up that officials have called “awkward.”
“The main thing is we had unanimous support,” McInerny said. “Basically, it’s just kind of putting a stamp on what we’ve been doing for just short of a year.”