East Naples Interim Fire Chief Keith Teague defended himself Tuesday against allegations that he is deliberately endangering the public by allowing station closures and lying about the need for unpaid furloughs as his fire district struggles to remain afloat amid a $3 million budget deficit.
“The reality is, we have less than $4 million in reserves,” Teague said. “We are not going to balance a budget on reserves.”
Chris Tobin, president of the Collier Professional Firefighters and Paramedics union, wrote in a letter Monday to the East Naples Fire Board that Teague closed one of the busiest stations in the district in an effort to save money. Tobin also called Teague’s furlough plan a ploy to convince the public that the crisis was caused by the union’s position in collective bargaining talks.
After Tuesday night’s commission meeting, Teague fired back.
“If we don’t start making changes now to reduce out debt,” Teague said, “we will be out of business in a year in a half.”
Teague said the decision to close Station 22 on Bayshore Drive for one day was made because it is the second slowest station of the five in the district. Teague said closing the station for a day did not put the public at risk, as Tobin claimed.
Teague said his books are open for anyone to see as proof.
Also, Teague said everyone on staff is taking the unpaid furloughs, including himself. He said fire commissioners are also taking a cut out of their monthly stipend to save the district money, contrary to Tobin’s claims that the cuts are only affecting the firefighters.
“If it takes a 20 percent pay cut, I will take a 20 percent pay cut,” said Teague, who is eligible for retirement but is choosing to stay in the district as long as they allow him to do so to help “fix the district.”
In other news from Tuesday’s fire board meeting:
■ A discussion to promote Teague to permanent fire chief from interim fire chief has been postponed until August 16, which is the next commission meeting.
That is because Tobin pointed out a stipulation in the fire chief job description that requires the chief to live within the East Naples Fire Control and Rescue District or a surrounding district. Teague lives in Estero and has property in North Naples.
A motion, which was brought forth by Commissioner Angela Davis, will be amended to allow the chief to either live outside the district or to use the fact that Teague has property in North Naples to fulfill the requirement.
■ Thomas Cannon stepped down as chairman of the East Naples Fire Board amid a budget shortfall that has forced his fire district to implement mandatory furloughs for firefighters.
Cannon, who has served as chairman for 22 years, will remain a commissioner on the board for the East Naples Fire Control and Rescue District, but will no longer run the meetings.
Cannon, 57, said it’s time to let someone else serve.
Robert Boyer was elected chairman in his place.
Tobin has repeatedly criticized Cannon for a “lack of accountability” to firefighters and East Naples residents. Tobin has repeatedly said Cannon runs fire board meetings as if it were the “Tom Cannon Fire District.”
However, Donna Fiala, a Collier County commissioner whose district includes parts of East Naples, has praised Cannon for his fiscal responsibility. She credits Cannon, who runs a private accounting firm, for helping guide the fire district through its difficult budget crisis.
Staff writer Aaron Hale contributed to this report.