Should the City wait till March to begin the process for hiring a police chief?

Northfield Safety CenterWith the Jan. 4th departure of Northfield Public Safety Director/Police Chief Mark Taylor (see the Dec. 28 rehash of the Dec. 6 story in the Nfld News), the Northfield City Council needs to decide if it should wait till the results of a fire services study by Emergency Service Consulting International (ESCI) are delivered in March. (See the Nov. 30 Nfld News Study will look at consolidating Northfield area fire services; also the June 12 2012 City Council meeting packet for background.)

The Dec. 18 Fbo Daily News editorial urges the City to wait:  Let’s see the results of the fire study before acting on Northfield Public Safety director

Fast forward two years and now the opportunity of further collaboration and sharing of services may be available, depending upon the result of the fire services study. If the study indicates consolidation/collaboration is not only possible, but recommended, maybe a regional fire services director versus a public safety director is the answer. With an open position as yet undefined, that’s a possibility. Perhaps the study will suggest such collaboration would not work. The new city council will then have the opportunity to review the post, especially considering the strides the fire department has made in improving its bookkeeping and operations.

Or is having the best possible police chief more important to the City than whatever secondary fire-related role might be included with the position? Are there downsides to waiting 4 months or longer to having a permanent police chief?

Update on the Northfield Fire Department and the Northfield Fire Relief Association: What’s the good, the bad, and the ugly?

Northfield’s Fire Department has been the subject of two Northfield News articles in the past week:

Nov. 8: Northfield Fire Department revamps how it selects leaders

Nov. 2: Northfield Fire Department has made "extreme progress" this year

Public Safety Director Mark Taylor’s Fire Department Roadmap upate (PDF of a Powerpoint) is available, too:

Northfield Fire Deparment Roadmap update

Progress! Understanding the structural, financial, and legal operations of the Fire Relief and Rescue Squad associations

At the August 21, 2012 City Council Work Session, TJ Dvorak and Tom Nelson from the Fire Relief Association and Rescue Squad Association met with the Council to:

… provide an update on their efforts to address process and procedural topics of the Association. Attached is supporting information on the steps they are taking in this process and how the Relief Association is integrated with the Fire Department and the Rescue Squad.

It’s been a long and tortuous road to this point (see all the blog posts for background). There are no dollar amounts attached to anything yet, so it remains to be seen whether item 3D Transparency Review will reveal the important numbers to the public. But I’m pleased that there appears to be progress. The document in the packet (PDF) included this outline and flowchart (PDF):

Northfield Fire Relief Assn and Northfield Rescue Squad Relief Assn Funding FlowchartNorthfield Fire Relief Association & Northfield Rescue Squad Association – Progress Update

1. Process Goal: Association and City staff leaders jointly review (with external assistance) the structural, financial, and legal operations of non-profit Fire Relief/Rescue Squad associations, outline recommended changes, and report to City Council

2. Process Team

a. TJ Dvorak – Association President
b. Tom Nelson – Association Secretary
c. Mark Taylor – Public Safety Director
d. Tim Madigan – City Administrator
e. Kathleen McBride – Finance Director
f. External Review/Recommendations members
i. Tom Olinger CPA – Abdo, Eick, and Meyer CPA
ii. Eve R. Borenstein JD – Eve Rose Borenstein LLC

3. Process Steps:

a. Preliminary Meetings and flowchart development
b. Information/documentation gathering for external review
c. Outline Time Line – process, deliverables, and any change management.
d. Transparent Review – Structural, Fiscal, and Legal
e. External Assistance/Recommendations – CPA and Non Profit specialized JD
f. Recommendations Review – External consultants and process team
g. Next Steps & Change management
h. Final Report presentation to Council

Here’s the video from that segment of the work session:


Video streaming by Ustream

Northfield News story on firefighters’ pension is misleading

Northfield Assistant Fire Chief Tom Nelson; Griff Wigley March 13 Nfld News:  Northfield’s firefighter wages, pensions among highest in state DSC08083 Northfield Assistant Fire Chief Tom Nelson; Griff Wigley
Northfield Assistant Fire Chief Tom Nelson stopped by my corner office at GBM yesterday. We mostly argued, hence the scowls in the left photo. (Feel free to sort through the 180+ comments to my blog post to find my criticisms of the Northfield Fire Department. More to come?)

But one thing we did agree on (hence the smiles in the right photo) was that the two versions of the Northfield News stories about the firefighters’ pension contained some misleading information. In the March 6 version, Northfield firefighters: paid or volunteers?, reporter Suzy Rook wrote:

According to a state auditor’s report for 2009, the city’s firefighters, who also serve the Northfield Rural Fire District, have $7,500 apiece placed in the fund annually;

In the sidebar:

$7,500 — Northfield’s annual pension contribution per firefighter

After the March 6 story appeared, Tom’s email to me and Suzy included this:

Northfield Fire Relief is presently at $7500/yr of service.  This is not to be confused with “The City pays each member $7500/year” as was stated in the Northfield News e-edition last week.  The impact on the annual budget is only the Municipal Contribution amount.  For this year, the impact is slightly more than $900/fire fighter.

Likewise, in the comment thread attached to the March 6 story, firefighter Aramis Wells argued with her about this issue.  But to no avail, as this week’s March 13 version, Northfield’s firefighter wages, pensions among highest in state, contained the same text and sidebar.

My take

Individual firefighter pension obligations DO NOT cost the City of Northfield/taxpayers $7,500/year, as the Northfield News’ stories indicate.

Rather, if they stay on the job for 20 years or more (and past the age of 50), the pension fund pays them $7,500 per year of service. Big difference.

The amount in the fund fluctuates with the stock market and so the City’s annual contribution to the fund fluctuates.  Back in 2008, the City contributed nearly $100,000 to the fund. In 2009 it was half that. This year, Tom says it’ll be about $29,000.

I think the City of Northfield and we citizens get a good deal with this arrangement because the pension encourages firefighters to stay on the job.  Lack of turnover is generally a good thing when it comes to firefighting and I think we’re better served by having so many firefighters with so many years of experience.

But we need not worry too much that the current turmoil with the City and the Northfield Fire Department will cause many firefighters to quit.  Fire Chief Gerry Franek’s attorney David Hvistendahl, Northfield Area Rural Fire District administrator Jerry Anderson and others are wrong to, um, fan these flames.

Why?

The firefighters get a good deal, too. If they stick with it for 20 years, they get a decent lump sum payout of $150,000. A few are going get twice that as they been on the job for nearly 40 years. Plus, they have an interesting and challenging part-time job in which they get to make a real difference in people’s lives, contribute measurably in the community’s quality of life, and earn our respect for doing so. Not many $21/hr part-time jobs offer all this.

I’m glad the Northfield News did the story because it has helped raise awareness of the issue.  But I think they owe it to the firefighters and to the citizens to run a correction.

Decision! Council opts to keep fire station at current location, build new police station behind Perkins


This is a real surprise. In today’s Nfld news: Council votes to split police, fire

The Northfield City Council, as expected, settled on a new Safety Center site Tuesday. But instead of choosing a parcel to house a joint facility, it voted 5-1, with Mayor Mary Rossing abstaining, to move ahead with the purchase of a 4.2-acre site on Riverview Drive behind Perkins restaurant for a police station.

The new building would also house administrative and training facilities for the Police and Fire departments while fire trucks would continue to be located at the current building at Hwy. 3 and Fifth Street. That facility would likely be upgraded for continued use.

Video segment – 18. Motion – Policy Direction on the new Public Safety Center

I need time and conversation to think more about this but my immediate reaction is that I like it.

What’s up with the Northfield Fire Department?

In Saturday’s Nfld News: Firefighters want to air concerns to Northfield council

Nfld Fire Dept letter to councilIn a Dec. 28 letter, 27 of the department’s 32 firefighters asked that the City Council schedule a work session “to discuss improvement to the road map for the Fire Department, specifically the selection or election of the fire chief and appointment of officers and the new fire hall.”

Northfield Fire Chief Gerry Franek said last week that he believes a meeting with the council will alleviate some of the firefighters’ concerns. In meetings with the city’s administrator and public safety director, who oversees the Fire Department, several firefighters have voiced their unhappiness with proposed changes the city plans to make when choosing a fire chief…

The mayor also prefers to honor the established chain of command, and continue communicating through the city’ administrator, public safety director and fire chief.

I’m way behind on understanding all the issues with the Fire Department, going back to early last year when an OSHA inspection raised issues and a subsequent report by a consultant cited criticisms.

It’s an odd request for nearly an entire department (27 people) to want to meet directly with the City Council, seemingly without the involvement of their supervisor, in this case, Public Safety Director Mark Taylor. Imagine if all the public works employees made a similar request, going around their supervisor.  Something’s amiss here and I don’t understand what it is.

Controversy erupts over the 2011 DJJD Horseshoe Hunt

DJJD Horseshoe HuntWhile the 2011 Horseshoe Hunt clues have started appearing on the DJJD website, some members of the DJJD committee have begun to question the wisdom of this year’s location for Horseshoe.

On early Saturday morning, DJJD volunteers were seen lowering Horsehoe Hunt Chair Tim Freeland into the Cannon River adjacent to the Ames Mill, dressed in a diving suit.

DSC07963 IMG_20110829_105724 IMG_20110829_105705 DSC07966

DSC07970 DSC07977 DSC07979 DSC07980

While Freeland’s final destination for the Horeshoe remains a secret, its approximate location quickly became controversial, once other DJJD Committee members learned of the activity.

"I know that we’ve had some problems in the past with the Horseshoe found too quickly," said Hayes ‘Gabby’ Scriver,  a 3rd-year DJJD Board Director. "But this looks to me like it’s a little over the top. If the Horseshoe is anywhere near the dam, we can expect that Malt-O-Meal will object.  They own the Ames Mill dam and they certainly don’t want anyone messing around there, underwater or not. What if the dam was accidentally damaged?"

DJJD General Chair Dwayne Reddy disagreed. "You can’t be spoon fed all your life.  In recent years, the Horseshoe has been so easy to find that you hardly even need to read the clues to find it.  If the frickin’ Mayor of Northfield can find the Horseshoe, what does that tell you?"  Other committee members agreed, though they wished to remain anonymous.

The Northfield Fire Department has agreed to rent out its diving suit to anyone interested in searching the river for the Horseshoe. "I know it’s a bit unusual but considering the City’s budget problems, we need all the revenue we can find right now," said Fire Chief Harry Frantek. "The bingo tent during DJJD ain’t the cash cow folks think it is."

Northfield Fire Department under fire: Consultant issues critical report

In the packet for next week’s Council Work Session is a Northfield Fire Department Operations Review and Risk Management Assessment (PDF) of the Northfield Fire Department by a consultant hired by the City earlier this year after an OSHA inspection raised issues. Public Safety Chief Mark Taylor wrote in his intro to the Council:

Northfield Fire Department Operations Review and Risk Management AssessmentThe City Council is being asked to receive the attached report that is a result of an in depth overview of city fire department operations.

There will be some future action items where the council will be requested to make fire department operational changes. That formal request will come at a future city council meeting.

The Nfld News has this story in today’s paper:  Report: Fire Department not complying with state, federal regs:

A report issued this week could forever change the Northfield Fire Department. In the 21-page document, consultant Michelle Soldo found that the department failed to meet federal Occupational Health & Safety Administration standards regarding the establishment of a fire department, its structure as well as its training schedule.

Soldo found 19 other areas of concern dealing with a lack of Standard Operating Procedures, governance, selection of the fire chief and departmental leadership, physical agility, hiring, performance reviews, compensation, discipline, record-keeping, facility maintenance and use, space needs and equipment maintenance.

Subscribe and Follow LoGro

Subscribe to the blog via email (daily) Subscribe to the blog via RSS Subscribe to the Locally Grown e-newsletter (weekly)
Follow us on Twitter Visit our Picasaweb photo gallery Like us on Facebook

Blog Monthly Archives

Blog Category Archives