Battle over Sarasota, Fla. Firefighters' Airport Contract

Airport chief Fredrick "Rick" Piccolo is offering to give firefighters who lost their jobs to privatization a lump-sum distribution of retirement benefits worth more than $1 million.

Meanwhile, the firefighters' union representatives continue to question Piccolo's decision, saying newly contracted firefighters are not certified to work in Florida.

On Monday the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority was introduced to Ed Cluchey, a 24-year U.S. Air Force veteran hired by Rural/Metro Inc. to oversee 15 firefighters.

The Rural/Metro staff replaces the in-house staff that was represented by Suncoast Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics.

Suncoast President Mike Stephenson told the authority that Cluchey's resume was the exception among Rural/Metro's hires. Suncoast business agent Mervin Kennell said later the union has submitted documents to the state fire marshal's office in hopes he will investigate the lack of state certification on the Rural/Metro staff.

Piccolo, chief executive of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, acknowledged that Cluchey and others do not have Florida certification but said they are qualified.

"We're submitting the paperwork," Piccolo said.

Piccolo also acknowledged that Rural/Metro has not yet fully manned the airport fire station. The company has filled 14 of 16 positions required under the contract, he said. A couple of the new hires are still being released from military duty, he said.

In other business, the airport authority awarded a master planning job that could be worth more than half a million to Ricondo and Associates of Miami.

A $570,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration may cover the cost of updating the airport's 1993 master plan.

Ricondo beat out MEA Group Inc. of Lakewood Ranch and URS Corp. of Tampa. Both firms have worked for the airport in the past. Ricondo has not.

Ricondo, a major airport planning firm with its headquarters in Chicago, will subcontract with local transportation consultant Dave Goode's LPA Group of Sarasota.

Another project, upgrading the airport's public address system, will be rebid.

The airport awarded Com-Net Software a $347,000 contract this summer, but higher-bidding competitor alleged Com-Net was not licensed in Florida.

Pro Sound was seeking an injunction. Airport Counsel Dan Bailey said the injunction wasn't granted, but the judge suggested the complaint had merit. Com-Net has agreed to cancel the contract.



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