Steinmuller to lead Fire Commission

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Andy Steinmulller takes the helm as Fire Commission chairman Thursday night at the Center firehouse.

Despite disclaimers earlier in the day Thursday, Shelter Island Fire Commissioner Andy Steinmuller accepted the nomination to become chairman of the board Thursday night at the Center firehouse after Commissioner Larry Lechmanski told him he had “no choice.”

Mr. Steinmuller wasted no time in naming Keith Clark as his deputy chairman as the Board of Commissioners moved on to various routine appointments typical of a reorganizational meeting.

But Mr. Steinmuller took two opportunities — first as soon as the commissioners agreed to his ascension as chairman and later just before the brief meeting adjourned — to make his own plea for unity between fire district commissioners and fire department members.

“I hope we can all get along together great,” Mr. Steinmuller said, summing up his goals before adjourning the meeting. It was a similar plea that outgoing board chairman Richard Surozenski had made in December when some festering differences of opinion between the chiefs and commissioners resulted in an unexpected strong write-in vote for John Beresky.

Mr. Beresky, a New York City firefighter and one-year veteran of the local volunteer department,  garnered 29 votes to Mr. Surozenski’s 70 and incumbent Commissioner Andy Reeve’s 95. But Mr. Beresky and his supporters argued that about 35 votes discounted by poll workers were actually for the write-in candidate.

The paper ballots used for the annual election were confusing, Mr. Beresky said, making it unclear where voters were supposed to write in a candidate if they chose to do so.

At the December meeting, there was a strong show of support for the sitting commissioners by firefighters, with a minority — but among them Chief John D’Amato, First Assistant Chief Will Anderson and department secretary Arthur Bloom — raising a number of questions about how the Board of Commissioners conducts its business.

Based on a letter from Chief D’Amato with 10 recommendations for changes, some of those issues are already being addressed, while others can be expected to surface again in 2013. Among them is where monthly meetings of the Board of Commissioners are to be held.

The December meeting was moved to the large meeting room on the second floor of the Center Firehouse, but this month’s reorganization meeting was back in the tiny board room. In his December letter to the commissioners, Chief D’Amato called that “a little personal irritant. I find it rude at best to make participants other than the five commissioners look at the back of commissioners’ heads and render them unable to interpret non-verbal communications,” the chief wrote.

Calling for all meetings to be moved to the larger room, the chief said it would be “more professional, more comfortable” and would present “a welcoming and open appearance to the public attendees.”

Mr. Bloom has complained that the commissioners have become accustomed to conducting activities behind closed doors and ramming decisions through without public discussion. Even with those concerns voiced by some members, before Thursday night’s meeting was called to order the four commissioners in attendance — Mr. Reeve was out of town — quickly agreed among themselves about various decisions they would announce publicly as the formal meeting progressed.

None were controversial issues, but the New York State Open Meetings Law prohibits such discussions.

Other actions Thursday night resulted in the reappointments of Helen Rosenblum as the fire district’s attorney; Amber Williams as treasurer; and Jackie Tuttle as secretary.
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