Saturday, January 31, 2009

Turn-about is fair play, is it not?...........................

The following letter was conveyed to the TOSS.

27 January 2009

Mayor Donel C. Smith
Town of Southern Shores
5375 Virginia Dare Trail
Southern Shores, NC 27949

Dear Mayor Smith:

The Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. Board of Directors, conducted an emergency meeting on January 26, 2009, in response to your seven day “deadline” for responding to a de novo proposed contract presented by the Town on January 20, 2009.

After a thorough review of your proposed contract and the facts surrounding the Town’s recent actions, the Board made the following findings:
1.The Town of Southern Shores has breached the Fire Services Contract dated July 1, 2008, by violating the terms of the contract, specifically paragraphs 1.(b), 2. and 9.

2.Further that the Town, by communicating its ultimatum to accept a contract without recourse, including public comments made by the Mayor to that effect, that further violates paragraphs 1(b), 2., 3(a& b), 4., 5., 6., 7., 8., and 9. has further breached the mutual promises and agreements upon which the contract is based.

3.That by refusing to negotiate after more than four requests and notices, while publicly asserting that it was negotiating, even to the extent of deceiving certain members of the Town Council, the Town has expressed its intent to extort a contract that is unfavorable to the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., including provisions that would supersede the current contract thereby canceling the mutually agreed upon terms and conditions.
4.That the Town of Southern Shores has yet to respond to the proposed long-term contract submitted to the Town on October 28, 2008 through the Fire Service Advisory Board.

5.That through its actions, the Town appears to be engaged in an effort to seize the assets of a private not-for-profit corporation without compensation.

6.That the terms demanded by the Town in its proposed contract would cause grievous and irreparable harm to the corporation, its individual members and retirees, the residents of Martin’s Point who are served by the Corporation, Dare County and indeed the residents and taxpayers of the Town of Southern Shores.

7.That the ramifications of the Town’s actions will also negatively impact other communities including, but not limited to the Town’s of Duck and Kitty Hawk.
In consideration of these findings, the Board passed a resolution declaring the Town of Southern Shores to be in breach of the Fire Services Agreement dated July 1, 2008 and hereby terminates the Contract and Agreement for cause, effective immediately upon delivery of this letter. The Board empowers the Fire Chief to deliver this notice of termination at a time and place that is convenient. The Fire Chief is also instructed to deliver a proposed contract meeting the needs of the Fire Department and the citizens of its service area at the same time.

The Town is offered a period of seven (7) days from the effective date and time of this notice to accept the contract delivered with this notice or negotiate, in good faith, a mutually acceptable alternative. The Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. will continue to provide Fire and Rescue services during this period without compensation.

The Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. is composed largely of residents and taxpayers of it’s service area and remains committed to serving the communities of Southern Shores and Martin’s Point. The Department is frankly tired and disgusted with the continuing political games foisted upon it by the Mayor and representatives of the Town. In the interest of resolving this matter quickly in a manner that best serves the public interest, and because of the recent experience with administrative incompetence and dishonest posturing, we respectfully request an opportunity to negotiate with representatives of the Town other than the current Mayor or Town Manager.

If we are unable to negotiate a reasonable solution to this matter within the seven day period, The Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. will deliver notice to the office of the State Fire Marshal and Dare County that we no longer provide contracted fire service to the Town of Southern Shores.
To protect the interests of our friends and neighbors, we will continue to provide emergency and non-emergency responses to calls for assistance with in the Town as mutual aid, without contract at least through June 30, 2009.

We look forward to a timely resolution to this matter.


George Kowalski, Chairman
CC: Town Council
Town Manager

Friday, January 30, 2009

Another comment I made at

"It is not the form of government, nor yet our laws we are quarreling with, but the malpractices of the officers and the abuses of power we suffer under those empowered to manage our public affairs." Herman Husbands circa 1770, Regulator.

Look up the Regulators in your North Carolina History.

I recited this quote, to this seated Council at one of their regular meetings. Warning them to not allow this (qoute) to become the mantra of the Southern Shores citizens.

Obviously, they weren't listening or it just went "over their heads".

Postings on Southern Shores Forum.........

This is a short response I wrote to someone using the alias "SS taxpayer" posting questions on Very early this morning I had typed up one of my usual (long) well cited and noted posts, which quite promptly disappeared when I hit the enter key.

After giving more consideration to SS taxpayers questions, instead of a 500+ characters with references and citations of meeting minutes as I had, here's the short answers (questions in fact).

How do you inform, educate, or negotiate with an organization who's top leadership will not listen, read, or negotiate in good faith? An organization whose leadership seems only interested in ignoring facts, demanding budget cuts with no logical explanation, and presents "take it or leave it", "in your face" contracts with the threat of going elsewhere. BTW, would they be proud to send the same exact contract to KH? I think not, they would certainly get an answer from KH in less than the required seven days.

While at the same time publicly praising the high standards and performance of the fire department.

Ever deal with someone that felt they had to compliment, and praise you before they gave you the shaft?

Is it any wonder the SSVFD never received permission to purchase the trucks? The Council would never comment, acknowledge, or respond.

I further pose: Would it be better for the SSVFD to reduce service levels and risk loss of their Class 5 Insurance Rating? Which I would interpret as violating the terms of their existing contract. Or act to maintain it? I believe the former would be the most beneficial to their customers, the individual taxpayers.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Meant to mention this before..........................................

Remember the deadline I mentioned regarding the SSVFD Contract?

The contract was conveyed to the SSVFD on the 20th with the requirement that it be returned by the 27th.

I dropped by Town Hall on the 27th to see if I could talk with either Mayor Smith or Charlie Read, both were out of town for the week.

What was the point?

Have you seen this?..........................................................

This is being distributed by email under the pen name Thomas Paine. Being a History Major, that just cracked me up.

Mr. Paine was a British transplant to the colonies and was the pamphleteer of the American Revolution. Author of the pamphlet entitled Common Sense (appropriate for the current circumstances) advocating colonial America's independence from Great Britain.

Please Help Save Our Volunteer Fire Department

The Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department is a non-profit corporation that has served the Town of Southern Shores and Martin's Point for nearly 30 years. On January 20th, The Southern Shores Town Council, in a political dispute about control and power, gave the Fire Department an ultimatum to sign an unbalanced and unfair contract or risk being taken over by the Town.

The Mayor says that this is about fiscal conservatism and lower taxes.

That's Not True! The current structure provides the most cost effective Fire Department in the Outer Banks. This year alone, Southern Shores Volunteer Firefighters contributed more than 15,000 hours of their time to provide Fire and Rescue services that would cost millions without them.

The Mayor says that the Fire Department is demanding a 69% increase in funding for next year.

Not Even Close! The Fire Department has not submitted a budget request since it is not yet even due! He dishonestly made his numbers up to take control of the Fire Department. The Southern Shores portion of the Fire Department budget for the fiscal year 2008-2009 is only 16% higher than it was in FY 1997-1998. During that same 11-year period the Town Budget has grown by 76%!

The Mayor says that the Town has negotiated in good faith with the Fire Department.

Wrong! Despite numerous documented attempts by the Fire Department, the Town has refused to negotiate a contract.

The Mayor says that the Fire Department has spent a lot of money without consulting the Town.

Incorrect! The Fire Department has projected its capital needs for years and has informed the Town of major items for more than 5 years. Last year, the Fire Department presented a 5-year strategic plan with expected dates for capital expenses and has kept that schedule. The Town, however, does not have a plan.

The Mayor refers to the Fire Department as "Formerly Volunteer."

That's Just Deceptive! Last year, in response to the increasing administrative workload of running a Fire Department while meeting new requirements and regulations, the Volunteer Membership of the Fire Department voted by an overwhelming majority of 85% to hire a paid Fire Chief. They also chose to hire the existing Chief, who had been elected by the majority of the members 4 years in a row. Except for the Chief and a part time Administrative Assistant, all of the 60 members of the Fire Department, including the Board of Directors are Volunteers.

Why Would the Mayor Tell You Things That Are Not True?

He wants control. He even wants to control the tax rate and spending of tax money raised from Martin's Point so that he can shift costs.

He wants to control the assets of the Fire Department to help balance a Town Budget that is out of control. He and other Council members were elected after promising Capital Improvements and Lower Taxes.

Have your taxes gone down? No!

Have the Streets and Canals been fixed? No!

Have Services been cut? Yes! Lifeguards, Chipping, Public Works, Codes & Police among others.

Yet Town administrative salaries have gone up sharply and the Formerly Volunteer Mayor and Council receive monthly stipends.

The Mayor is simply not as good as his word.

What do they call it when Government takes over private companies? Socialism!

Please help us stop this dishonest attempt to socialize our Volunteer Fire Department. We need your help to prevent the loss of our Volunteers. We need you to help prevent unnecessary increases in your property insurance and the cost of your Fire Rescue services.

Please act today and call or email the following Council Members and tell them to:

"Stop Trying to Ruin Our Volunteer Fire Department and Leave Martin's Point's Money Alone"

Don Smith- 252-261-4093

Jody Hess- 252-261-0102

Brian McDonald- 252-255-5118

Jim Pfizenmayer - 252-261-0643

Kevin Stroud- 252-261-8464

I'm still considering the "socialism" part, not certain about that one. But, I can vouch for the accuracy of the statements, both those attributed to the Mayor and the counter points. I have witnessed most of the statements first hand and you wil find most of the counter points either mentioned directly, or supported in my previous blog postings.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Random thoughts on the matter......................................

I was trying to figure out how a Fire and Rescue contract might be worked out with Kitty Hawk. Would they be able to meet or beat the SSVFD price of service.

Currently, the SSVFD budget represents a tiny bit less than $0.02 of the TOSS $0.975 tax rate, but let's round that out to a solid $0.02. Which would generate approximately $300,000.00 for the budget(current budget $292,000.00).

Based on the figures I found on the Town of Kitty Hawk website, it appears that the KHFD represents around $0.04(.0421)of the town's $0.18 tax rate. One advantage, though, would be that KHFD does have it's own Ocean Rescue service which could be extended I presume at that rate.

The TOSS contract for the Life Guard Beach Service this year was $128,000.00 .

Now, I'm certain our Town Council would want to keep it as close as possible to current expenses or less, but this isn't looking too good so far.

I guess the KH Town Manager could set a lower price, but I think the KH taxpayers would want to be assured they were not subsidising the TOSS taxpayers. They might even think KH should make some thing off of the deal. Wouldn't you if the situation was reversed?

Let's see, up to $600,000.00 as compared to $420,000.00. Do I need to do the rest of the of the math?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I was just too curious......................................

Reading the article in Sunday's Coastland Times regarding last weeks contract discussions, I didn't see among the quoted statements, some thing Mayor Smith said.

He was quoted as saying, that as far as he was concerned “this is it” (in reference to the contract document). My memory is that he further indicated that contract needed to be signed and returned within seven days, or “other means” of service may have to be arranged. Since the existing contract already includes a clause that would take effect in the event the TOSS chose to create it's own municipal fire department, I became quite curious as to what other possibilities might be available.

So, I decided to call our neighboring towns to see if they had been approached. Here is what I found:

Town of Duck

According to Town Manager Chris Layton, our Town Manager Charlie Read had approached him regarding the possibility of contracting for fire service in Southern Shores several months ago. He indicated that their response was that the Town of Duck was only interested in providing services within their own district.

Town of Kitty Hawk

I spoke to Town Manager John Stockton who indicated that he had been approached by Charlie Read in the “last couple of weeks” and that Kitty Hawk would be “willing to consider a proposal from” the TOSS. I'm not really surprised. If you were to present your current contractor with a contract designed to fail, you would want to have something else lined up.

Now I wonder, would Kitty Hawk accept the same conditions in a proposal as detailed in the contract just presented to the SSVFD? I guess we will have to wait and see. I'll try to keep track of any further progress in this matter, and post updates.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What's the problem?... What's the Plan?......................

These are the questions I posed during the public comment portion of the last Council meeting. Of course, they don't normally respond during this part of the meeting, but I had hopes that someone would before the meeting closed.

No one addressed them and I'm not very confident that the Town Council would have a consensus in answering either question.

As a whole our Council has had nothing but the highest praise for the performance of the SSVFD, often citing instances of sterling service. To the best of my knowledge there has never been a complaint filed or voiced by the TOSS citizens, staff, or Town Council regarding either the manner or timeliness of their response. The Town's FSAB found that we had an “outstanding volunteer program” with strong leadership, at a bargain price.

It seems to me that if there were any severe problems in the SSVFD it would be exhibited in the overall performance of the department. Example: poor leadership leads to poor morale which results in poor performance. Something I contend would show up quickly in a volunteer environment and be quite difficult to mask.

All serious discussions I have witnessed have involved overall control of the SSVFD budget and assets. These two issues have resurfaced over and over again. It is as if after 25 years of operation the SSVFD can no longer be trusted to manage their own affairs and the TOSS must have possession of or full ownership of the assets (land, buildings, equipment, and funds).

Talk about a morale booster; tell a dedicated group of volunteers that you appreciate their work, and they can risk their own lives to save your property or lives if they choose to do so, but you cannot trust them to properly conduct their own fiscal affairs.

I thought the current Town Council pledged to run the TOSS as a business? Do you attempt to resolve issues of trust at that level by modifying a contract? I you don't trust a contractor to that extent why are you even contemplating a contract?

Ok, so what about this new Contract?...........................

I have a copy of the contract and have considered posting it, or the most onerous portions of it, for my readers to see.. I have chosen not to, primarily because I'm not certain what it is.................really!

Even the Town Council members couldn't seem to agree at the meeting on the 20th, when Mayor Smith read a prepared statement and presented the contract.

In his statement (I cannot quote word for word), Mayor Smith seemed to indicate that this was the contract, that the SSVFD needed to respond (sign?) within seven days, or “an alternative means” (of service?) would have to be arranged. He seemed to indicate that this was final and non-negotiable.

Council member Hess recognized this and objected. This lead to further discussion among the Council members as to whether the contract had been negotiated, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that it had not.

Council member McDonald disagreed that this was an ultimatum and indicated that this was a draft intended to initiate negotiations. I believe this sentiment was reinforced by comments from the other Council members. The published Agenda for the council meeting referred to this as a “draft” contract, while the Broadcast email refers to it as “proposed”.

If it's a draft, why is there a “drop dead” date of January 27th? The current contract is in effect until the end of June.

Judging from my use of the words “seem”, “indicated”, and “believe”, I hope you can appreciate my predicament and understand why I have not posted the contract. After all, if it is actually a proposal and allowance is made for negotiation, the onerous points may not even appear in the final draft. It really did not look like the council had their act together on this.

None the less, the Town Council did vote 4 – 1 to present the contract to the SSVFD Board of Directors.

To add to the confusion, the copies of the contract presented to the Fire Chief and Chairman of the SSVFD were not complete, containing only the first two and last pages. The Town Manager had new copies made for them after the meeting.

What's with these Broadcast Emails from the TOSS?

The TOSS has distributed two Broadcast emails regarding the SSVFD. The first was sent on Jan. 14 and the latest on the 23rd. For some reason the text of the email from the 14th is not available on the TOSS website, the notice from the 23rd can be seen here.

Broadcast Email from Jan.14th.

As many are aware, the Town Council has directed the Town Manager, in conjunction with the Town Attorney, to negotiate a new contract with the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. (SSVFD). It has taken some time to gather the necessary information and input from various sources, but the Town is hopeful that a long-term, multi-year, and mutually beneficial agreement will be reached in the near future.
Due to recent questions that have been posed to Town staff members and others, we would like to clarify a few items of information which may not be commonly known to the citizens of the Town:
1.The SSVFD is not a department of the Town. It is a separate, not-for-profit corporation.
2.Unlike a Town department, the relationship between the Town and the SSVFD relies on a contractual agreement under which the Town appropriates money to the SSVFD in exchange for the SSVFD providing fire services to the Town and its citizens.  Other than through the terms of this contractual relationship, the Town exercises no control over the SSVFD.
3.Similarly, the SSVFD is not a Dare County department, but contracts with Dare County to provide services to the residents of Martin’s Point.
4.The current Chief of the Fire Department, Chief Bob Harvey, is not an employee of the Town. Chief Harvey was a volunteer member of the SSVFD who the Board of Directors of the SSVFD selected and hired as their first full-time paid Chief.
Thank you for considering this information. If you have any further questions or concerns regarding the relationship between the Town and SSVFD please contact the Town’s staff for assistance.

The email above was sent out of cycle and seemingly out of the blue. When I saw it my first reaction was “Oh no, not again!”.

I'm still curious as to why this was sent and what was the reason for sending it at that time?

The bullet points are factually correct, but what is the point that the is TOSS trying to get across to the public?

One thing I did learn from discussion among Council members at the the Town Council meeting on the 20th was that first paragraph of the first notice was incorrect. Although Council had directed such, neither the Town Manager nor the Town Attorney had actually negotiated anything with the SSVFD. According to the SSVFD representatives at this meeting, the SSVFD had attempted to engage the Town Manager in negotiations multiple times in the course of the previous two months.

Can You Believe This?....................................

Based on the new contract proposal presented by Mayor Smith this past Tuesday, it appears that the Southern Shores Town Council is out to break the SSVFD again. As pointed out by the TOSS in two unusual Broadcast emails, the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Dept., Inc. is a private, non-profit corporation which provides fire, rescue, and emergency management services to the TOSS.

The SSVFD has been both the first responding agency and the majority source of manpower available on a moments notice, handling anything from fires in structures and wild land to first aid, life support, vehicle extrications, Hazardous Materials incidents, structural collapse (technical rescue and recovery), drownings, land search for lost people and assist patients into their homes or vehicles.

All of the above services provided by a dedicated staff of volunteers. With close to 500 dispatches a year these services are provided to the citizens and visitors of Southern Shores and Martins Point on a daily basis.

Emergency Management Services may be a surprise, but the SSVFD has become the Emergency Operations Center for the TOSS. Providing a hardened shelter, with power, food, and a communications center (fire, rescue, police, Coast Guard, and Ham radio), for the SSVFD, SSPD, Dare EMS, and TOSS staff.

All of the above services have been provided in the past 25 years by mutual agreement between the TOSS, Dare County and the SSVFD in a boiler-plate contract.

Suddenly, these past two fiscal years, the TOSS has found the original agreements to be lacking in some form or fashion, leading to often heated discussions, confusion, and the formation of a Fire Service Advisory Board.

The FSAB, was created by the Town Council to investigate the needs of the SSVFD and provide a venue for the formation of recommendations regarding the future relationship between the SSVFD and TOSS.
Contentious at times, this board explored all aspects of the the SSVFD's operations, budgeting (operating and capital), and planning (both near and long term) and produced a position paper presented to the Town Council on October 28th, 2008.

Take time to read these minutes and I think you will see the “cool” manner in which this report was received, pay special attention to the seemingly negative comments of Council members Pfizenmayer and Stroud who were both seated members of the FSAB. Although it appeared the Council would consider these findings, it is now quite apparent that the work of this Board of volunteers has been set aside in favor of some other agenda.