By Jon Craig
A heated, years old clash between Fairview Fire Department leaders and Greenburgh taxpayers ended Thursday night the way it began, with another unexpected surprise. But distrust and hurt feelings remain.
After Town of Greenwich residents grilled their elected Fairview Fire Commissioners for 90 minutes over high pay, policy and appointments, Fairview’s five-member Board of Commissioners emerged from a closed 30-minute executive session with a hurried announcement.
Fairview Fire Chief Anthony LoGiudice said he “will be retiring” by the end of the year. In December, LoGiudice told the Board of Commissioners he planned to retire “within three years.” At the time, a 4-1 board informally approved LoGiudice’s recommendation that the fire department promote one of his officers to “executive deputy chief,” at an annual cost of $160,000 — training the officer to become the next chief. LoGiudice explained that was the way it was done when he became chief four years ago. But as more details emerged earlier this year, including the fact that the board chairwoman’s son was a leading contender, the promotion stalled.
Thursday night, during the meeting at the Rosemont Boulevard Fire Headquarters, LoGiudice said he still supported promoting someone to “executive deputy chief “ and training him before LoGiudice retires. However, no interim executive will be created after all. Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Vikki Simmons quieted the audience of more than 50 residents by announcing the next chief will be trained “from the existing deputy chief pool.” The change apparently eliminates Simmons’ son, Eryk, who is a captain, from the pool of candidates as the next fire chief.
LoGiudice said his hastened retirement had nothing to do with anti-Semitic remarks that he apologized for making on March 28. According to sworn testimony, LoGiudice made a slur about Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner years ago to fire department subordinates. The slur was made public last month in depositions taken in a federal age discrimination lawsuit. While litigation was to be discussed during Thursday’s closed-door executive session, it is unclear if that lawsuit is close to resolution. A recent Internet blog post by LoGiudice’s wife said the fire chief was suffering from cancer, while implying it may be connected to his work at the World Trade Center site after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
At Thursday’s meeting, Milton Hoffman, a retired senior editor with The Journal News, a Fairview Fire District resident and longtime critic of its rising cost to taxpayers, said 319 signatures were collected on petitions in a short period of time to encourage major organizational changes — including merging fire operations in Fairview, which has two fire stations, with Greenville Fire District’s station and two stations in the Hartsdale Fire District. Fairview’s is the largest and costliest of the three fire districts within the Town of Greenburgh.
Supervisor Feiner has suggested a fall referendum to ask voters if a merger of two of Greenburgh’s three fire departments should occur. Spending has been a sore spot for years. In 2007, voters defeated a bond issue to spend $8 million on repairs to Fairview’s Station 2.
Hoffman thinks Fairview fire officials could move toward consolidation with one or both of the fire departments in Greenburgh to save town taxpayer money without a referendum, including joining the county fire dispatch system instead of continuing to use its own fire dispatchers.
Many of the suggested changes are contained in a 2010 study of the town’s three fire districts, which tax property owners separately. The committee that drafted that report voted 6-3 in favor of its suggestions. Simmons was among those voting against the report’s conclusions.
Several residents grew increasingly vocal and testy at Thursday’s meeting as several firefighters stood at the back of the fire station listening. There were no nameplates in front of the fire commissioners, and one resident asked them to identify themselves. One of the unnamed commissioners told the man to look up the Fairview Fire Department on the Internet, and all their identities are there. But it was easier said then done.
As LoGiudice walked away from news reporters after the meeting, he declined to explain why he was retiring after 32 years of firefighting.
Several residents suggested not filling LoGiudice’s job to save taxpayers money. The next election for a Fairview Fire Commissioner is Dec. 9. One of the board’s five fire commissioners is elected to a five-year term each year.
The fire district’s citizen monitoring committee has suggested that future elections be held in warmer weather, not during the busy holiday season, with extended daytime hours for voting.
During a March 4 meeting of fire commissioners, Fairview residents complained of successive tax increases building up to an annual fire district budget of $12.4 million this year.
Fairview is the largest of three fire districts that protect the unincorporated parts of Greenburgh. It covers 5.5 square miles from Valhalla to the north, the city of White Plains and a Metro North railroad yard to the east and the Hartsdale Fire District to the south. The Villages of Ardsley and Elmsford border Fairview to the west. (The other fire districts within Greenburgh, Greenville and Hartsdale, have budgets of $11 million and $8 million, respectively.)