Neall tries to make amends with volunteer firefighters

September 13, 1992|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Staff Writer

County Executive Robert R. Neall has extended an olive branch to volunteer firefighters, saying he hopes they can work together to settle differences and face difficult budget cuts ahead.

"All relationships have problems," said Mr. Neall, who spoke briefly at the annual convention of the Volunteer Firefighters Association Thursday night. "I came here tonight to try to get a new relationship."

Louis D'Camera, president of the volunteers association, said that he feels more optimistic. "He has listened to us," he said. "He sounds more optimistic than in the past."

Troubles between Mr. Neall and the volunteers began even before Mr. Neall was elected, when the volunteers endorsed his opponent, Ted Sophocleus. And the relationship grew worse.

Mr. Neall appointed Paul C. Haigley Jr., who has quarreled frequently with the volunteers, as fire administrator.

Over the last two years, the volunteers and the fire administrator have been at odds over insurance coverage, a plan to change the chain of command and use of state grant money. The fight over how to spend the so-called 508 money prompted the volunteers to sue the county for what they believe is their right to decide how to spend it.

On Thursday, however, the volunteer leaders and the administration seemed willing to try to put aside their differences.

But if Mr. Neall was optimistic about building a better relationship, his outlook on county finances was less sanguine. He told the firefighters that they could expect more budget cuts this year.

"If you are getting less money than you would like to, I want you to know that I'm an equal opportunity offender," he said, noting that he had cut budgets of other departments as well.

He repeated his former offer for firefighters to visit him to discuss questions or complaints.

"A good relationship or a better relationship will make it better for everyone," he said.

After the remarks, Mr. D'Camera gave Mr. Neall a T-shirt from the Odenton Volunteer Fire Co., where Mr. D'Camera works.

Mr. D'Camera said it was meant to replace the one that Mr. Neall RTC keeps in his desk. That shirt, which Mr. D'Camera said Mr. Neall pulls out when volunteers visit, says: Volunteer Firefighters for Ted Sophocleus.

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