City Council Faces Criticism Over Fire Truck Delay

The Gulfport City Council's decision to delay buying a new fire truck has some folks seeing red.

The council voted 5-to-2 Tuesday to postpone the purchase of a $300,000 tanker truck. Gulfport's fire chief and several city council candidates say the decision puts politics ahead of public safety.

Councilman Kim Savant, who made the motion, said it's not fair to make such a large purchase when the city is about to change administrations. Savant and four other council members agreed to postpone the purchase until a new mayor takes office in July.

That decision has some folks, including the fire chief, awfully upset.

"I've never seen public safety take a back seat to politics in my 28-year career with the fire service."

Fire Chief James White is upset with the council's delay.

He says replacing this aging tanker truck at Station 11 on Three Rivers Road is a top priority in the department's five-year plan. The new tanker truck would help serve the growing Orange Grove area.

Chief White says delaying the purchase now is pure politics.

"I refer to it as being ambushed. I was ambushed. I was caught completely off guard and had no opportunity to respond of to have any input into this decision before the vote was taken."

The council decision to delay the fire truck purchase prompted four city council candidates to voice their displeasure on the steps of city hall, including the two opponents in Ward 6.

"We need for the city council to come back, negotiate, and vote that tanker truck back in," Ward 6 candidate Chuck Teston said.

His opponent agrees.

"It is important that all the citizens of this city, who have a concern about their safety, should call their councilman and make sure that they buy this fire truck," said Ward 6 candidate, Walter Thomas.

The council member who made the motion to delay the purchase of a new tanker truck defends that decision.

"Obviously we have known it was 13 years old when this administration took office. We've known it had to be replaced. Why is it coming up now? And given this administration's propensity to spend money, i.e., Orange Grove Utilities, on things that are not worth what we've given for it, I think we need to let a new administration take a look at it," Ward 4 council member Kim Savant said.

City council president, Sam Albritton, says potential litigation was another concern and the main reason he voted against the purchase.

Albritton says the recommendation to accept the higher of two bids for the fire tanker truck may have invited a lawsuit against the city.