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Christmas comes early for SMFD fire chief

Christmas came early for Foster Gover.

It arrived Thursday in the form of a $192,000 buyout for Gover’s voluntary resignation after a three-month investigation into his tenure as Southern Manatee Fire District Rescue chief and fire marshal.

There is no truth to the rumor the district’s fire commissioners were dressed as Santa’s helpers.

They should’ve been.

Though Gover has been relieved of duty immediately, he is on administrative leave with full pay and benefits until May 1 when his resignation becomes official.

At which time he will be paid that $192,000 in one lump sum. Nice.

“We owe it to our district and to the taxpayers,” said Mark Ruben, explaining his decision and that of fellow fire commissioners Charles Durant and Anthony Evans, who voted 3-2 for the partial buyout and resignation.

Pardon us if we hold our applause.

The investigation, done by Parrish Fire Control District Chief Michael Johnson, concluded that Gover had used district computers to send and receive pornographic e-mails from 2005 to 2009.

All but one occurred while he was fire marshal, a job at which he was voted 2008 State Fire Marshal of the Year.

If you or I engaged in sending such inappropriate e-mails at all, never mind over a four-year period, we’d be history. Especially, if you’re a public servant.

There are several former members of our law enforcement community who had the same terrible judgment and paid for it with their jobs.

But not Gover, who spent 40 years in the profession, including the last nine with Southern Manatee.

It’s in his contract.

He can’t be fired unless it involves criminal activity.

Astonishingly, Commissioners John Barry III and Robert Kulchar Jr., who voted against accepting Gover’s resignation, preferred a lesser punishment.

One month’s suspension at least.

That, Barry said, would send a message throughout the department and to the taxpayers such behavior will not be tolerated.

He must be kidding.

Incredulous district taxpayers -- and the rest of the community -- have to be asking:

What in blazes is going on at Southern Manatee Fire Rescue?

Last year Thomas Hennessy, Gover’s predecessor, received an eye-popping $1.6 million retirement payout -- part of Johnson’s ongoing investigation.

Now this with Gover’s soft landing.

It stinks.

This isn’t about the rank-and-file firefighters.

This is about the suits, the administrators, their six-figure salaries and benefits.

This is about a pension board that votes not to allow meetings to be documented, despite being part of a public agency with elected commissioners and is supported by tax money.

This is about a culture where firefighters and other employees felt intimidated because of Gover’s presence during the investigation.

This is about transparency and accountability, instead of a “Good ol’ boy” network.

None of which is Foster Gover’s concern any longer.

He’s being handsomely paid to stay home and in five months there will be that $192,000 pay day.

“He’s all right with the outcome,” said Kendra Presswood, Gover’s lawyer.

You think?

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Please call Vin Mannix at 745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL. 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com.

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