Michael Kerr, presient of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, was sworn in Tuesday night as the city’s newest fire commissioner.
Kerr, who had previously served as commissioner for seven-and-a-half years, will replace Scott Kemins, who held the post for the last 15 months. Kemins was offered a position as deputy fire commissioner, Kerr said.
Kemins, who is also the city’s buildings commissioner, was unavailable for comment.
As president of Fire Command, a fire suppression sales and service contractor, Kerr does business with the city. He explained that his company, which is based in Long Beach, has a contract with Nassau County and the city bought into it.
Kerr said the relationship is being examined and if it is determined that there is a conflict, the contract with the city will be dropped.
“It will be investigated to make sure we can do it and I will just continue doing it until we get a ruling on it,” said Kerr, who has been chamber president for about seven years.
In addition, Kerr donated about $2,500 to the Long Beach Democrats at the beginning of the year, which some also view as a conflict.
“[My appointment] had nothing to do with that at all,” Kerr said. “I have donated for years to Democrats or Republicans. People like to make something out of nothing.”
Kerr served as fire commissioner from December 1998 until April 2006, when he resigned amid allegations that he had claimed credit he had not earned toward his state pension. At the time, an investigation was launched into Kerr's involvement in the Length of Service Award Program, which provides a pension of $20 per month per year served to volunteer firefighters with more than 20 years of active service. In order to qualify, a firefighter must maintain a certain level of involvement in the department's activities, receiving credit for calls answered.
He was never charged with any wrongdoing.
“There were some really nasty accusations and it was all unfounded,” Kerr said. “I wasn’t getting any cooperation and I couldn’t get any work done, so I resigned."
Otherwise, Kerr said he was thrilled with his prior stint as commissioner.
“It was very good. I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was very rewarding. We accomplished a lot. We did a lot of good for the fire department.”
Kerr said that when the new city administration took office, he was asked if he would consider becoming commissioner again. He said he notified the city manager that if they were to make a change, he would be interested.
Kerr said he was appointed fire commissioner because the city “wanted to change things administratively, with more of a business side. I’m going to delegate more authority. This will not be a one-man operation.”
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“I have some concerns over the fact his company, Fire Command, does business and has a current contract with the city,” Councilman Mike Fagen said. “But I’m certain the [Long Beach] Ethics Board will vet this out appropriately.”
City Manager Jack Schnirman did not return a call for comment about why the change was made.
Kerr said he would give each one of his four deputy commissioners a specific task to accomplish.
“I’m rearing to go,” he said. "... In these times with our money situation, we have to be very frugal and buy only what we need. We can’t go out with an open shopping list.”
Kerr said one of the first priorities would be to replace air cylinders on the firefighters’ breathing apparatus. He will then search for grant money on other projects.
As fire commissioner, Kerr will be responsible for the day-to-day administrative operations of the department, which consists of about 30 professional firefighters and 165 volunteers. His duties include budgeting for equipment and supplies for the department and setting policy.