In a ceremony at city hall, Mayor Chris Arbutine (left) presents an inscribed fire ax to former Belleair Bluffs fire chief Patrick Competelli.
BELLEAIR BLUFFS – In August 2009, the city of Belleair Bluffs fired then-Fire Chief Patrick Competelli. This week, Competelli was back at city hall for belated recognition of his one-year-plus service as chief at the Oct. 21 City Commission meeting.
The ax was given to Competelli by Arbutine with little comment, the mayor barely managing a smile.
The lack of enthusiasm on Arbutine’s part was understandable. The presentation was arranged as part of the mediation process to settle a lawsuit Competelli had brought against the city relating to his dismissal.
City Attorney Thomas Trask said that the city’s lawyers and Competelli’s lawyers decided to settle the suit through mediation rather than have the case go to trial. There was no admittance of liability on either side, Trask said. Both sides agreed to settle, rather than have the case go to trial, he said.
Competelli’s tenure as fire chief was recognized by the city with the presentation of the fire ax, Trask said. As part of the settlement, Competelli was given a sum of $225,000, half of which was paid by the city of Belleair Bluffs and half by the city’s insurance carrier, Trask said.
In contrast to Arbutine, Competelli had fond recollections of his tenure as the Bluffs’ fire chief.
“The job fulfilled my lifelong goal,” he told an audience mostly composed of well-wishers that packed city hall for the occasion.
Competelli said he had “dedicated my heart and soul to keeping everyone in the city safe and secure.”
“I was never so proud” as when he was named fire chief, Competelli said. The job and people he worked with were, he said, “really the greatest.”
The fire ax “will have a special place in my heart, and also in my home,” Competelli said.
Competelli was dismissed as fire chief during the period when Belleair Bluffs dismantled its fire department and contracted with the city of Largo for fire services. One of the major reasons given for that action was the pullout of the town of Belleair from a fire agreement with Belleair Bluffs.
Competelli was fired by the city for allegedly making a plea to Belleair to reconsider their pullout. Arbutine had called Competelli’s actions a deliberate attempt to act unilaterally against the commissions’ wishes and create a campaign of scare tactics designed to derail the planned referendum on the issue, as reported in the Bee.
The firing had been controversial. The vote was close, 3-2 in favor of discharge. Current commissioners Joseph Barkley and Suzy Sofer voted No.
The golden axe normally is awarded to firefighters and chief officers for outstanding performance during their career.
Today, Competelli is owner of Tampa Bay Safety, a company that teaches fire officer, fire inspector, arson investigator, and other fire and EMS related courses, according to its website. He is also a fire safety inspector and firefighter/paramedic with Hillsborough County.
Mehlenbacher Road curbs ‘a disaster’
Hearing complaints from a resident that the curbs on the Belleair Bluffs side of Mehlenbacher Road are a foot higher than the street and too close to the driveways, Arbutine agreed some sections were “a disaster.”
He said engineers hired by the town of Belleair, which shares the road with Belleair Bluffs and is handling the construction project, “put it in, and didn’t know what they were doing.”
“The curbs were 12 inches higher than the sidewalk behind it and cars couldn’t get to the driveways,” Arbutine said. “But they kept going with (the job) when they should have known there was a problem.”
Arbutine told the residents that the situation will be fixed. “(Belleair Town Manager) Micah Maxwell is aware of this. He knows the curbs need to be replaced, and we’ll see that that happens,” Arbutine said.
Bluffs community services director Robert David confirmed Arbutine’s comments. “We are not happy with the curbs,” David said. “Belleair has owned up to (the problem) and is taking it out and it will be replaced.”
“The job will be handled properly,” David assured Lester Rusinowski and other affected residents.