By Stephen J. Kotz
UPDATE 7:30 p.m.
The Bridgehampton Board of Fire Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously accepted the results of fire department elections and swore in Chief Tim Sieger, First Assistant Chief Chuck Broadmeadow and Second Assistant Chief Mark Balserus, who all won large majorities in department balloting on Monday.
The commissioners’ decision did not come without some suspense. The board, meeting in a cramped conference room, called a short executive session to discuss the chiefs’ qualifications.
When the meeting was reopened, the board’s attorney, Brad Pinsky, said according to district rules, neither Mr. Sieger nor Mr. Broadmeadow were qualified to serve as chiefs because neither was currently certified as an interior firefighter.
Mr. Broadmeadow agreed to take the necessary training class within the year, while the board granted Mr. Sieger a waiver from the requirement.
The board also thanked the former chief, Jeff White, for his five years of service.
For the second time in a month, Tim Sieger has been elected chief of the Bridgehampton Fire Department. In department voting on Monday, Mr. Sieger again defeated Second Assistant Chief Francis Hernandez. Chuck Broadmeadow was elected first assistant chief, also defeating Mr. Hernandez, while Mark Balserus was elected second assistant chief.
The second election was ordered by the district’s board of fire commissioners, who last month tossed out the initial vote, held on December 7, after concluding the rules governing the election were unfair. The board’s decision has been criticized by department members as an effort to interfere with the department’s leadership and install its choice, Mr. Hernandez, over the department’s pick, Mr. Sieger.
State law allows a fire district’s commissioners to accept or reject the officers elected by the department and does not require them to provide an explanation. The board was scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the firehouse on School Street, after this paper’s deadline, when it was expected to discuss the results and whether it would certify the election.
None of the fire commissioners returned calls seeking comment in the days leading up to the vote, but Brad Pinsky, the fire district’s attorney, said on Friday that the commissioners were well within their rights in ordering the revote.
“The district was not happy or unhappy with the results,” he said. “They gave no opinion on the elections.” Instead, he said, the commissioners had received several complaints about how the election had been run. “There were serious concerns about the process,” he said, “so the district took control of the election.”
Some department members, requesting anonymity, said if the commissioners had wanted to change the rules, they could have simply waited until next year to do so. “If you are driving on a flat tire, do you continue to drive for another five miles?” said Mr. Pinsky. “It’s a broken system, so they decided to fix it.”
Specifically, Mr. Pinsky said the commissioners objected to a provision in the department rules that required a candidate to have served as both first and second assistant chief before being eligible to run for chief. Mr. Hernandez had not served as first assistant chief, so in December’s vote, he was forced to run for the chief’s position as a write-in candidate.
Mr. Pinsky described that restriction as part of “an antiquated system” that prevented a broad swathe of the department’s membership from running for office and argued that the various chief’s positions are largely interchangeable.
Mr. Sieger on Monday said the commissioners were trying to prevent him from serving as chief because of personal animosity. Mr. Sieger described himself as a “stickler for detail” who does not sugar coat his disagreements over department policy.
He said Mr. Pinsky was wrong in saying that the chiefs largely performed the same tasks, saying that the second assistant chief oversees the water supply at a fire scene, while the first assistant chief is in charge of the interior of the building, while the chief manages the whole scene. He insisted he had no personal problem with Mr. Hernandez, but insisted he needed the additional training that would come with him serving as first assistant chief before he would be ready for the top position.
Mr. Sieger said he written an open letter to the commissioners protesting the decision to hold the revote, saying candidates had announced their intentions to run for the various positions in October before the department companies nominated candidates. During that nomination process, he said two commissioners, Bruce Dombkowski and Fred Wilford, had nominated Mr. Hernandez in an effort to block his election.
Department members also objected to the tight window for voting. Members were directed to be in the meeting room by 6 p.m. or not be allowed to participate. In the past, they had a two-hour window to cast ballots. While some department members said that might make it harder for some to get to the firehouse on time, the number of voters actually increased slightly, as six additional ballots were cast.
Again, Mr. Pinsky said the board was not trying to deny access, but to make sure the vote was fair. He said in the past, it would have possible for a member to vote, leave the room and return and vote again.
Outgoing Chief Jeff White, who took part in the December vote, acknowledged there were some minor procedural errors in that vote, but insisted the vote was fair and represented the will of department members.
“It makes them look bad,” he said of the commissioners. “There’s no need for it.” He added that the commissioners’ approach could wind up having a negative impact on morale in a department that is struggling to maintain its rolls. “You are going to end up losing people,” he said.
In the revote, Mr. Sieger, who had been first assistant chief, defeated Mr. Hernandez by a 39-18 tally. In a separate ballot, Mr. Broadmeadow defeated Mr. Hernandez for the position of first assistant chief by a 35-21 margin. Mr. Balserus was elected second assistant chief by a 49-7 margin over Joe Hernandez, Mr. Hernandez’s son. In other department voting, Richard Kelly was elected secretary, Jack Zito was elected treasurer, and Harry Halsey was elected deputy treasurer.