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Pay raise disappoints Spring Hill fire chief

Fire commissioners noted several concerns in a job review that accompanied the 3.5 percent increase.

By JENNIFER FARRELL

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 13, 2001


SPRING HILL -- After a tumultuous year in which his bosses twice reprimanded him publicly for mishandling taxpayer money then kicked him off their negotiating team during union contract talks, Fire Rescue District Chief Mike Morgan got a lukewarm job review Wednesday accompanied by a 3.5 percent raise for next year.

Bringing Morgan's salary to $70,095, the pay increase is just above the minimum called for in his job agreement, which allows for annual raises between 3 and 7 percent. Last year, Morgan received a 4.6 percent raise.

Morgan, who said Thursday morning he had not yet seen the written evaluations turned in by commissioners on the five-member board, was bitter about the size of his raise.

"I'm very disappointed," he said. "It certainly sends a clear message to me."

Morgan, who has complained repeatedly that he is a target of persistent mistrust by some board members, pointed out that staff districtwide got a 7 percent increase in October, capping the final year of a three-year contract.

"I got half of what the other employees in this district got this year," Morgan said.

What hurt Morgan, according to commissioners and the evaluations they turned in, were several controversies that erupted this year, including his mistaken recommendation that the board could pay for a new $50,500 brush truck with impact fees.

Commissioners were forced to beg the County Commission in March for permission to transfer contingency funds to pay for the truck, and the mix-up led to Morgan's first formal reprimand since coming to the district in June 1995.

Commissioners also criticized Morgan this year for giving a firefighter who runs a private towing and salvage business paid time off for hauling cars and trucks to an extrication seminar last year.

In October, Morgan recommended hiring a firefighter whose certification had lapsed, costing the district more money and embarrassment, Chairman Bob Kanner said.

All of the commissioners gave the chief high marks for his ability to operate a strong command in the field, but they were uniformly critical of his lack of long-term planning and an incident this spring that they perceived as a breach of confidence from their closed-door meetings.

Last month, Morgan was stripped of his position as chief negotiator when commissioners decided he told the union president too much about what was said by commissioners in private during labor contract talks in May.

Commissioner Jeff Hollander scored Morgan's performance most generously with a score of 4.4 of a possible 5, while Commissioner Rick Martin delivered Morgan's lowest marks, with a 2.9.

Hollander and Commissioner Gene Panozzo pushed for a higher raise, with recommendations of 4 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively. Commissioner Dennis Andrews, Kanner and Martin recommended 3 percent each, and the suggestions were averaged to arrive at the final percentage.

Whether Morgan and the commission revisit a plan to enter into a contract remains undecided. Earlier this year, commissioners agreed to grant Morgan's request for a one-year renewable contract.

The chief, who has so far served without a contract but has said he would like to finish his career in Spring Hill, asked for the agreement to run through June 2002 to protect himself.

When Morgan and commissioners could not initially agree on the terms, they agreed to postpone finalizing the agreement.

After Wednesday's meeting, commissioners said the matter had not been decided.

"At this point, I am not for giving him a contract," Kanner said. "I would say at this point that nobody on this board is overwhelmed with his services."

-- Staff writer Jennifer Farrell covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432.

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