By Clinton Burton
The Charlotte Sun
ENGLEWOOD, Fla. — The Englewood Area Fire Control board voted Wednesday to deny Fire Commissioner Robert Bacon's request to reimburse him more than $2,400 in attorney's fees he incurred after being accused of inappropriate actions during contract negations between the district and the firefighters' union.
In a letter sent to commissioners in April by the union's attorney, James Brantley, Bacon was accused of inappropriately discussing contract negotiations with firefighters. The board, including Bacon, had given Fire Chief Brian Gorski sole authority to negotiate on behalf of the district.
Bacon was further accused of secretly recording the negotiation meeting, even though open recording of the meeting was permitted.
Citing state statutes and Second District Court of Appeals precedents, Fire District attorney Lori Wellbaum-Emery said the board would have to decide for themselves if Bacon's actions met a two-prong test of acting within his official duties and being for public, not private, purposes.
If those criteria are there, she said, the board can reimburse Bacon for the attorney's fees.
"There needs to be a determination by this governing body as to whether those two prongs were both met," she said.
Commissioner Jeff Kern said the board should not rush into a decision and should ask for an opinion from the Florida Attorney General's office before going any further.
Commissioner Charles Bray said there was no point in waiting.
"What he admitted he did, and the other allegations ... it was in no way authorized by the board and was in no way the function of a commissioner," Bray said. "We were not all told to go there, we were not all voted to go there. He took it upon himself to go and do something that caused a stir."
Commissioner Ron Davison agreed.
"I don't think there was anything in the original letter where he was acting on behalf of the board or this district or on behalf of the fire commissioners of the Englewood Fire District," he said. "They were all personal issues, things he did on his own and I do not think he meets the two-prong defense for expenditures for the board to pay for it, for the taxpayers of this community to pay for it."
Bacon said he was hoping the debate would end Wednesday morning and the board would move on.
"I'm asking for this to be resolved," he said.
Bacon said he would continue with legal action if the issue was not put to rest.
"Bring it on," Bray responded.
In her last meeting — she's not seeking re-election — Commission Chairperson Dee Hawkins agreed with Bray and Davison. When the issue was put to a vote, the trio voted not to pay Bacon's attorney's fees because his actions did not meet the criteria of the two-prong test.
Bacon abstained from voting and Kern dissented.
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