ISLE OF CAPRI — County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow used phrases such as "dead on arrival," "4-1 against" and "commissioners will never allow autonomy" to dissuade Isles of Capri Fire District residents from choosing to draft an ordinance amendment.
In the end, he agreed to help them write the amendment aimed at increasing the district fire advisory board's role. He assured them it would be legally sufficient but made no promises beyond that. Since the fire district's Municipal Service Taxing Unit is administered by the county, any ordinance or amendment would need commissioners' approval.
After numerous workshops including the one Monday, residents agreed they wanted to approach the county with the idea of expanding the power of their advisory board but without stepping on commissioners' toes. One of those powers would be the ability of fire board members to explore consolidation with other districts.
Residents said they weren't looking for the ability to hire and fire personnel. They understood the chief ran the department, and they had no intention of interfering with the district's day-to-day operation.
Instead, they wanted the advisory board to have the authority to investigate alternatives to current contracts for budget items such as fleet maintenance, fuel and IT services. Residents felt they were paying more for these services than they would if purchased in another way.
Len Price, a county administrator attending the workshop, cautioned residents when hearing them discuss negotiating contracts. She reminded the group negotiating power goes through the county's purchasing department answerable to the county commission.
An investigation team of Matt Crowder, Jeri Neuhaus, John Rogers and fire district board member John Hughes prepared a draft amendment for discussion at the workshop. The wording, they said, came from the Pelican Bay Services Division Municipal Service Taxing Unit. That MSTU is administered by county commissioners.
Of concern to county representatives was verbiage allowing the fire advisory board "to exercise decision and control of the day to day operational affairs of the unit to the maximum extent allowed by law."
The draft amendment also put the execution of services and policies under the direct supervision of the board that would then require staff to execute them.
"I don't believe they (county commissioners) would grant an advisory board this kind of autonomy," Klatzkow said.
Members of the investigation team insisted their goals were less lofty than autonomy, and said they understood that consolidation could be the final outcome for the district. But they believed the county would not ask them to go through the exercise of considering all future outcomes if commissioners' minds were closed to alternatives.
Klatzkow asked the group to appoint one spokesperson who would speak on behalf of the workshop in drafting the ordinance amendment. Residents chose John Rogers to help Klatzkow with the document.
Price said the target for bringing the amendment before county commissioners was Tuesday, Feb. 26. Capri's advisory board needed to meet and approve the amendment for consideration prior to the commissioners' closing date of Feb. 20 to get it on the agenda.
The next public workshop for Capri's fire district is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 15.