DENTON, FLA.- State Representative Mike Bennett (R) is standing behind his bill that would merge the Cedar Hammock and Southern Manatee fire districts. The two districts have been working toward the merger since 1995. Last week, however, Southern Manatee called off the merger despite the fact that the districts already have in place upper management personnel and shared resources and firefighting equipment.
The districts� boards have been at odds over several personnel-related issues. However, Cedar Hammock�s firing of Chief Rick Fulwider, whose services and salary were shared by both districts, without discussion with Southern Manatee appeared to be the proverbial last straw. Cedar Hammock had hired Fulwider prior to the merger talks. A new majority of Cedar Hammock Commissioners ousted Fulwider, a move Southern Manatee viewed as unethical and unjust.
Bennett says he anticipates the Legislature�s passage of this bill in the current session, noting that firefighters and constituents who called his office favor the merger. He attributes Southern Manatee�s action to the district�s adverse relationship with the newly elected Cedar Hammock commissioners.
Southern Manatee commissioners maintain that they still want a merger, but not with Cedar Hammock. Southern Manatee will discuss the merger issue with the Braden River Fire District.
Bennett, however, is proposing another solution. He intends to recommend to Governor Jeb Bush that the Cedar Hammock and Southern Manatee boards be combined into a 10-member board and that the Governor appoint an 11th member to work with the members to resolve the issue.
(Sources: �State legislator steps into merger fray,� Timothy O’Hara, Herald-Tribune www.newscoast.com Apr. 17, 2001/ �Southern Manatee fire board axes merger,� Chris Rotar, Bradenton Herald Fla.; Apr. 16, 2001.)