CRAIG BEACH Fire department faces criticism; vote disputed
Council members disagree on whether they passed a motion to place a 1.5-mill levy for fire service on the November ballot.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CRAIG BEACH -- Gary Humphrey thrust his hand to his chest as he explained to village council members how his wife gasped for air as she tried to breathe from an empty oxygen tank.
The woman, who has pulmonary disease, was in crisis July 27 when the Craig Beach fire department responded. The emergency team came with two oxygen tanks, Humphrey said. Both were empty.
"She don't deserve this," Humphrey said, his voice rising. "... I don't want anybody here to go through it. ... You're dealing with people's lives."
Humphrey pleaded with council members to investigate the department, adding that his wife spent more than a week in the hospital after the event.
Vote on levy: The nonprofit, volunteer department came under fire during the meeting as council members voted on an ordinance to place a 1.5-mill levy on the November ballot.
That levy would be used to re-enter a contract with the Craig Beach Fire Department. Although the 1.5-mill rate does not represent an increase over the current rate, officials said it would generate more money due to the taxing of new construction and an increase in property valuation.
Four council members voted to accept the ordinance. Councilmen Dennis Champion and Larry Ellis dissented, saying the department is unreliable and the village should be allowed to shop around for better protection.
Champion and Ellis then contended the ordinance failed because five votes are required to pass the ordinance as an emergency, bypassing the regular three readings.
But Council President George Meleski and Mayor Camillo C. Gaia said only four votes were needed to pass the measure. Five votes are required only to suspend the rules to allow passage on first reading, Meleski said, referring to Ohio Municipal League rules.
Council moved to pass the ordinance quickly because officials must present the proposal to the county board of elections by Aug. 23 for it to get on the November ballot.
Solicitor James Vivo said only four votes were needed to pass the ordinance, but he is unclear whether it did pass because council may not have followed proper procedure after amending the proposed ordinance. He said he would research the matter and advise council members by Wednesday.
Meleski said he would likely call an emergency meeting for Thursday to resolve the fire and other ballot issues.
Letter to fire chief: Regarding the July 27 situation, Champion said he had written a letter to Fire Chief Jack Brace and was awaiting a response.
Gaia said Brace had been asked to attend the Monday meeting but declined, saying he wanted to meet individually with council members.
Meleski said he believes that those criticizing the department for reasons other than the July 27 event are overreacting. But Humphrey and other residents who attended the meeting were in favor of considering other departments.
Jeff Harmon, a former firefighter and paramedic, said he reviewed a 911 tape and had concerns over the way the calls were handled. He asked council members to set aside politics and agree to place the fire service contract out for bid.
"Every life is of equal value, no matter what you think of each other," he said. "We are not getting our money's worth."