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Fire union works to oust fire district incumbents

The challengers in Pinellas Suncoast Fire District election were recruited after the two incumbents said they wouldn't run.

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 30, 2002


INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- The union representing Suncoast Fire and Rescue District firefighters is campaigning to oust two incumbents in next week's election.

But that wasn't the original intention, according to union president Dave Impagliapelli.

"The current commissioners made comments in public meetings that they would not be running for re-election, so we looked for qualified candidates," Impagliapelli said. "We don't have a problem with the current commissioners. Overall, they have done a good job, but we're not going to back down just because they decided to run."

The Indian Rocks Professional Firefighters Union Local 3306 invited both challengers to run for the two seats open this year. One has a brother who is a union member and firefighter. The other has experience in evaluating fire safety and interacting with fire department management.

"I think I can do a better job," said James G. Mortellite, whose brother has been a district firefighter for six years. "I will make better decisions, spend money more wisely and help make operations more efficient."

State law prohibits elected officials to vote on the "appointment, employment, promotion or advancement" of related individuals, including brothers, who work for the district. At the same time, the law does not prohibit those elected officials from approving overall budgets or setting agencywide policy.

Tom Hafner, who also has the union's endorsement, points to his longtime experience in public safety management: "I know the nuts and bolts of how a fire district works, what is key in deciding budget, policies and procedures."

The incumbents say they helped keep the service fee the same (the most recent increase was in 1992) while upgrading "90 percent" of the department's firefighting equipment. The commission recently approved a contract that gave firefighters a 7 percent pay raise for each of the next three years.

"We have one of the best fire districts in the state," said incumbent Joseph W. Girolamo, who says he fought to keep the district intact. "Maintaining the integrity of the district will continue to be a major issue, particularly with all the annexation that Largo is doing."

Klaus Stoeckler, a commissioner the past four years, says he is "not actively campaigning," but if elected he wants to push for the rebuilding of a 1970s-era fire station on the mainland and to continue to maintain high morale.

The Pinellas Suncoast Fire District, formerly the Indian Rocks Fire District, serves 12,000 homes and businesses in Indian Shores, Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore and a portion of mainland between Ulmerton Road, 94th Avenue N, 131st Street N and the Intracoastal Waterway.

The job

The Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District commissioners serve four-year terms and are paid $250 a month. Each of the five board members must live in the areas they represent. Two seats are up for election this year: Seat 3 which represents Belleair Beach/Belleair Shore, and Seat 4 representing the mainland.

Seat 3

JOSEPH W. GIROLAMO, 54, (incumbent), is a resident of Belleair Beach. He is seeking his second elected term and currently serves as the fire district's secretary/treasurer responsible for compiling the budget as well as managing the district's investment portfolio. He originally was appointed to the commission, serving six months before his election in 1998. Girolamo is a former Belleair Beach City Council member, actively invests in real estate and mortgages, and owns and operates the Beach House retail store in Treasure Island. Before moving to the area 14 years ago, he worked as a police officer in Pennsylvania and as a volunteer firefighter in New York. He is married and has two daughters.

ASSETS: Home, real estate, investments.

LIABILITIES: None listed.

SOURCES OF INCOME: Investments.

* * *

TOM HAFNER, 67, a resident of Belleair Beach, is a retired insurance executive who continues to work as a loss control consultant for Hartford Insurance, specializing in evaluating fire and safety programs in schools and public buildings. He served in the Air Force, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Hafner also has served as planning administrator for the Florida Bureau of Emergency Management and as Public Safety Administrator in Collier County, where he was responsible for three fire departments and an ambulance department. He is married with three children and five grandchildren. Hafner has been endorsed by the Indian Rocks Fire Department Union Local 3306.

ASSETS: home, investments.

LIABILITIES: none listed.

SOURCES OF INCOME: pension, investments, and consulting fees.

Seat 4

JAMES G. MORTELLITE, 26, is a resident of the unincorporated area on the mainland and is seeking his first elective office. He is a licensed commercial contractor specializing in the installation of cell phone towers in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Mississippi. He is married. Mortellite has been endorsed by the Indian Rocks Fire Department Union Local 3306. His brother John is a firefighter at the Pinellas Suncoast Fire District.

ASSETS: apartment complex and various real estate properties.

LIABILITIES: several mortgages.

SOURCES OF INCOME: Neake Corp., a construction business, as well as rentals from various properties and return on investments.

* * *

KLAUS STOECKLER, 63, (incumbent), is a resident of the unincorporated area on the mainland. He is a licensed real estate broker and has lived in the fire district since 1979. Stoeckler is seeking a second term on the fire district commission. He previously worked as a volunteer emergency medical technician. He is married with two children and four grandchildren.

ASSETS: Home.

LIABILITIES: None listed.

SOURCES OF INCOME: Investments and real estate.

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