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Political turmoil racks fire company Morale of volunteers seen at low

president is asked to resign

May 11, 1997|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The 55-year-old Elkridge station has the second highest county-funded budget after the Savage station's volunteer company. Elkridge has a relatively high number of volunteers, 70, with 25 of them considered active for firefighting purposes.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, its a private organization and we, as the government, want to keep our noses out of private business," says Drown, the councilman, who hadn't received a response to his query from the county Office of Law by late last week. "But they are partially funded with government grants."

Drown says his action was prompted by a few calls from residents concerned about spending at the fire station.

The internal dispute began about three months ago when some of the volunteer company's board members charged that board President Eugene P. Poligardo had misused the fire station's funds by spending: $30,000 during the last three years to support the fire station's Ladies Auxiliary, which is supposed to raise money for the station, not cost money. The women's group used the money to help set up one of the station's biggest fund-raisers, but some of the volunteer firefighters say the auxiliary's main fund-raiser has not brought in $30,000. Exact figures were not made public.

$1,600 on attorney's fees for advice he sought to support his controversial decision to suspend a volunteer firefighter.

$600 on cushions for a sofa in the firefighters' television lounge. Some firefighters say the expense isn't excessive because the cushions are expected to last 10 to 12 years.

Paying money -- volunteer leaders couldn't say how much -- to a drywall company owned by a volunteer firefighter at the station, Lt. T. J. Swiney.

Swiney's company has been the low bidder on a few fire hall projects, such as remodeling of its bunk room, the company's leaders acknowledge. But some volunteer firefighters expressed concerns about an appearance of a conflict of interest.

Swiney did not return telephone messages.

Heller says he's most concerned about the three $10,000 payments to the Ladies Auxiliary. "That's certainly not an appropriate or intended use of county funds," he says.

Decision by October

Poligardo, who has been president of the board five years, says he's considering the request to resign -- which is the only way he could be removed. He said he he will make his decision before the next board election in October.

But he denies allegations that he misused funds, saying he has put "the interest of the firehouse and the entire membership first."

John Zimmer, a fire station committee chairman, categorizes Poligardo's tenure as, "You ask. The money's there. Here."

"In some of these instances, money was spent," he says, "but our procedures weren't followed."

30-day suspension

The clash flared in February when Sandy Merson, a volunteer firefighter, was suspended for 30 days and removed from station committees, allegedly for upbraiding Poligardo's wife, a member the Ladies' Auxiliary.

The board voted to suspend Poligardo from his duties as president for three weeks in March for spending $1,600 for legal advice on how to proceed with Merson's suspension and her subsequent appeal. But board members allowed him to return to his position.

"We voted him as president," says Merson, who has served her 30-day suspension and is still banned from all committees but one. "Unfortunately, now it's hard to get rid of him."

Pub Date: 5/11/97

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