Sparks fly between commissioners, firefighters

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Fire Commissoner Larry Lechmanski crossed swords with Fire Department Secretary Arthur Bloom at Monday’s monthly fire commissoner’s meeting.

Simmering tensions between Shelter Island Fire Commissioners and some department members boiled over at the commissioners meeting Monday night.

The dispute, which produced angry exchanges, is over work that needs to be done at the Shelter Island Heights Firehouse. Commissioners wanted to move forward, accepting one of three bids that ranged from $12,000 to more than $24,000 on the project. But department secretary Arthur Bloom challenged them to get specifications drawn to assure all bidders are on the same page.

The issue developed after commissioners determined the building has shifted as it’s settled, causing strains in the structure. Initially, commissioners declared the project an emergency. But board attorney Helen Rosenblum advised them they were overstepping the definition of what constitutes a true emergency. She advised commission chairman Richard Surozenski to seek three bids on the project.

Mr. Surozenski returned with bids from Chris Chobor, Arthur C. Luecker and Andrew Clark, who, the board agreed, are all local contractors with solid reputations. Mr. Clark is the brother of Fire Commissioner Keith Clark, who said he would recuse himself from the discussion.

But before the commissioners could act on the bids, Mr. Bloom asked for the project specifications on which the bids were based. A silence fell over the room and finally Mr. Surozenski said there had been no specifications. All three bidders had visited the site and each outlined his own plans for dealing with the project, the commission chairman said.

It sounds like the contractors were bidding on three different jobs, Mr. Bloom said, suggesting the commission get an engineer to draft specifications and have the work re-bid. That clearly didn’t sit well with the commissioners. Mr. Bloom told them he thought they were making the discussion a personal battle with him.

Then First Assistant Fire Chief Will Anderson chimed in saying he had once been the low bidder on a town plumbing and heating job and had the Town Board not taken time to explore discrepancies between his bid and others, either he or the town could have been burned by the contract. Ultimately, he won that bid, but thanks to the clarifications, the Town Board got the project it wanted at the price Mr. Anderson was able to bid without suffering a loss.

“Let it fall down,” Commissioner Larry Lechmanski said about the building, clearly angry at the delay that resulted when Mr. Surozenski bowed to those who wanted to delay the project until the board could assure that bids were based on clear specifications.

“Do you think it’s going to fall down?” Mr. Anderson shot back.

“No,” Mr. Lechmanski responded.

Mr. Surozenski agreed to table the decision until December and speak to newly appointed part-time town engineer John C. Cronin about the possibility of developing specifications for the job that could then be clarified for the three bidders or possibly put out to bid again.

Following the meeting, both sides were grumbling — commissioners who thought their efforts to get the project done were being unfairly delayed and fire department members asserting the board was pushing through decisions with too little transparency.

Mr. Lechmanski said he was frustrated by the delay. Mr. Bloom said he resents the way commissioners push through decisions. But he said he’s not interested in trying to join the Board of Commissioners where there are two open seats and only two incumbents seeking re-election in December.

“I’m having fun being on the outside,” he said.