By Jon Craig
A new firestorm has erupted in Greenburgh after the Fairview Board of Fire Commissioners held an unannounced meeting last week to promote two firefighters as Chief and Deputy Chief.
Howard Reiss, the new Fire Chief, is a 27-year member of the department. He has been one of four Deputy Fire Chiefs since January 2010.
But the newest deputy chief, Eryk Simmons, happens to be the son of Vikki Simmons, the decades-long chairwoman of the Fairview Board of Commissioners, further alarming Supervisor Paul Feiner and other town residents who have fought to control taxpayer expenses.
Thursday’s surprise move, which came just three weeks after the five-member Fairview Fire Commission assured a heated public meeting that their concerns about favoritism and fiscal constraint were being heeded, prompted Feiner, retired newspaper editor Milton Hoffman and other critics to begin circulating a petition for a Nov. 5 public vote on consolidation. The November referendum would call for merging paid firefighting services within Fairview’s Fire District with the Hartsdale Fire District, also within the town, to eliminate duplication and save taxpayer money.
“I am disappointed that the Fairview Commission, in a secret session, did what it did,” Hoffman said. “Howard Reiss happens to be a fine person and I am sure he would be superior to the outgoing chief. But his appointment slows the process of getting one chief for the two departments.”
Feiner said that Vikki Simmons should not have participated in interviews that led to the promotion of her son as deputy chief. “It’s not fair to other candidates who hoped to be promoted to deputy chief when the mother of a candidate is the chair of the board and has the ability to determine who gets promoted. Eryk Simmons may be very qualified for the position. I do not question his professionalism. I have concerns about the appointment process.”
Hoffman added: “Vikki Simmons for almost 25 years has run the Commission like her own fiefdom.” Simmons could not be reached for comment.
Feiner noted that the town’s three paid Fire Chiefs are costing town taxpayers more than $600,000, with their annual salaries of more than $200,000 apiece. That’s more than the Greenburgh Police Chief, who serves the entire town.
Other portions of unincorporated Greenburgh are served by volunteer fire departments in the villages of Ardsley, Hastings, Elmsford, Irvington and Tarrytown.
“We don’t need three Chiefs,” Feiner said. “Fire district taxes are almost as high as town taxes, and we provide many more services.” Feiner suspects that talk of consolidation led to the accelerated timetable resulting in last week’s promotions of the Fairview Fire Department officers.
The promotions, which included appointment of John Baker as captain, hastened the retirement of Fairview Fire Chief Anthony LoGiudice, who on April 10 announced he would be stepping down “by the end of the year.” In December, LoGiudice told the Board of Commissioners he planned to retire “within three years.” But the ex-Fire Chief has since gotten ensnared in a federal age discrimination lawsuit filed by a firefighter job applicant. Testimony during that lawsuit revealed anti-Semitic remarks made by LoGiudice and directed against Feiner years ago.
LoGiudice has said his early retirement after 33 years had nothing to do with the remarks, which he has publicly apologized for making. According to sworn depositions by Reiss and a former Fairview firefighter, LoGiudice made a slur about Feiner to fire department subordinates.
During the April 10 meeting, Hoffman, a retired senior editor with The Journal News, Fairview Fire District resident and longtime critic of its rising cost to taxpayers, said petition signatures were being collected to encourage major organizational changes, including merging fire operations in Fairview, which has 45 paid firefighters at 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 paid fire districts within Greenburgh. Hoffman said that petition, which asked Fairview and Hartsdale to voluntarily cut costs while consolidating services, would have saved taxpayers $100,000 initially.
Hoffman previously favored consolidation without resorting to a public referendum, which also costs taxpayer money. In 2007, voters defeated a bond issue to spend $8 million on repairs to Fairview’s Station 2.
Several residents had suggested not filling LoGiudice’s job to save taxpayers money. Fairview is the largest of three fire districts that protect the unincorporated parts of Greenburgh. It covers 5.5 square miles and has an annual budget of $12.4 million. The other fire districts within Greenburgh, Greenville and Hartsdale, have budgets of $11 million and $8 million, respectively.