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March 18, 2019 2:00 pm

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Fire Board Holds Closed Session To Discuss Fire Chief Issues

   The probe into financial, operational and potential legal problems involving Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Brian Florey continued this week as the Fire Board at  its Tuesday night’s meeting voted to go into closed session to discuss various allegations of operational and personal misconduct involving the chief.
   Fire Board officials invoked the closed session, saying it was to discuss personnel matters involving Florey. Michigan law allows a closed session to discuss certain personnel issues.
    After about an hour, the Saugatuck Township Fire District Board opened the meeting to the public, but said nothing about what was discussed, nor did it vote to take any action.
   “We would like to assure the citizens of the fire district (of the cities of Saugatuck, Douglas, and Saugatuck Township) that we are taking (all) the allegations very seriously and will provide a remedy as speedy as possible,” said Acting Saugatuck Township Fire District Board Chair Jane Verplank upon opening the meeting to the public.
   Myriad problems involving Florey and the department have been exposed by the ongoing Fire Board investigation being led by Verplank and fellow board member Brad Rudich, Saugatuck Township Clerk.
   Those problems include:
   * the discovery of a rapidly diminishing fire department operational budget, recently showing more than 80% of its allotted fiscal-year dollars having been already spent with four-and-a-half-months still left in the fiscal year;
   * financial, accounting and operational problems, including failure to provide timely receipts or records for expenditures;
   * questionable use of a petty cash account;
   * verified reports that Florey has used his department-issued chief’s vehicle and taxpayer-paid gas during the past year for personal travel and use in violation of departmental policies;
   * and allegations that Florey took personal loans from two full-time department officers in violation of departmental policies and state rules and regulations
   These and other problems, some considered blatant violations of township fire department policies,  have recently been uncovered by the newly staffed Saugatuck Township Fire District Board and The Local Observer newspaper in ongoing investigations.
   While Fire Board members mentioned nothing about its closed session discussions with Florey, all the issues and problems that have so far surfaced - and more - came to the surface this week when some fire department personnel spoke to The Local Observer under the assurance of anonymity citing fear of retribution by Florey.
   Among the major concerns they have, including those already publicized, they said, are Florey’s “lack of professionalism and organizational skills,” and how his hiring practices and attitude is dividing the department into factions: those fire department personnel who live in the local area that the district serves and those that don’t.
   “All the 16 personnel he has hired so far all live outside of the coverage area,” said a fire department member, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
   The department has 34 total staff, which includes a full-time chief, captain, lieutenant and an inspector/firefighter.
   “(Our department) is being ruined for the people of this community, the locals are being shoved off. I have nothing against him (Florey), he seems personable. I just think he would be good as an officer, but not good as a leader,” said the fire department member.
   The Fire Board Tuesday provided an opportunity for public comments and two members of the audience who did speak were family members of the fire department personnel or former members.
   First to speak was Vicky Kelly, daughter of former Fire Department Chief John Blok who served the department for 35 years before Florey’s hiring. Kelly also is the sister of recently resigned fire department captain Mike Blok, who himself served 15 years.
   “Fire Chief Brian Florey, shame on you. You have been given a great fire department and you let this community down and the Blok family down,” said Kelly of her concerns.
   “I don’t know you personally and I have nothing against you personally. But I have no confidence in you.”
   Kelly further said that her brother Mike Blok had been instrumental in providing support and assistance to the new chief (Florey), only to be “treated very badly” and “never have his (Mike Blok’s) concerns been addressed.”
   Mike was recognized for his 15 years of service last year in January at an appreciation dinner. He would later quit the department, citing concerns about how it was being managed by Florey.  
   A women who identified herself as the sister of another fire department officer spoke next (she refused to provide The Local Observer with her name and spelling of it).
   “I have never heard Brian (Florey) say anything bad about John (Blok) and I’ve been at every meeting,” said the woman.
   “I have heard him say, ‘I am not bad-mouthing John, but we do things differently.’”
   The Fire Board investigation being led by Verplank and Rudich is continuing.

Fire Board Holds Closed Session To Discuss Fire Chief Issues

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