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.


  1. David Ludescher said:


    The Fire Department has a legitimate complaint. They were an independent group until the City Council put them under the “supervision” of the Police Chief a/k/a Public Safety Director.

    January 22, 2012
  2. Kathie Galotti said:

    I have no idea what’s up with the NFD. But boy, it seems to me that if 27 of 32 of them want to have a discussion with the mayor and the city council, then this discussion ought to be held, not ducked. One can, in fact, have a discussion with 30 or so people. Happens all the time.

    Coming on the heels of the weird withdrawal of EDA candidate slate just because one city councilor wanted to discuss them seems….again—very strange and sort of petulant.

    I agree with Kiffi on the general view that sunshine is the best disinfectant.

    And, tho not well informed about the NFD, I agree with David L. that at least on the face of things, the fire dept has a right to be concerned, what with top-down changes made to their governance from the Council….

    January 22, 2012
  3. john george said:

    Kathie & David- This “top-down” change in the administration of the NFD seems to fit in with the general direction that government, in all levels from local to national, is taking to consolidate smaller, more autonomous government departments into being controled by an overeaching larger central government. I don’t agree with this direction, but the pattern is not just local, IMO. I think it is this same underlying philosophy that is driving the Council’s desire to take over the EDA. I also think it affects the Council’s desire to be unaccountable to the general public through an appeals board. Again, this is just my opinion, but I have a tendency to look for patterns. I think I see one here.

    January 22, 2012
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    I don’t remember the seriousness of OSHA’s and the consultant’s findings but it was those reports of problems that triggered the move by the Council to make the NFD more accountable. Rather than micromanaging the department themselves, they sought a structural change which seemed a logical move to me at the time – again, without knowing very many details.

    I poked around a little for more info:

    Nov. 28 Nfld News: Attorney’s letter puts city on notice

    Dec. 30 Nfld News: City changes Fire Department priorities

    January 23, 2012
  5. Jane Moline said:

    Gee, Griff, sounds like you drank the kool-aid.

    The micromanaging is exactly want the city wants to do. They have a very important department that has functioned completely efficiently and successfully–meaning both at a low cost and doing their job in an excellent manner—and they want to change that–so they call in the OSHA review and make the OSHA charges (like having a coffee pot with only a two-prong, not a three prong plug) into major issues whereby they hire a consultant (for thousands of dollars), that, SURPRISE! concludes exactly what they paid them to say that the fire department must change to meet somebody else’s idea of what would work best even though it has been working OUTSTANDINGLY WELL for years.

    What they should be doing is hiring a consultant to incorporate the current organization and its current successful procedures into a form that will be safe from future meddling by over-reaching public officials.

    January 23, 2012
  6. Kathie Galotti said:

    I’m agnostic about whether or not it’s a good idea to let firefighters elect a chief. I’m agnostic about whether or not its all going outstandingly well right now. My issue is, what (good) reasons does the City Council have for NOT meeting with a group of 27 employees who’ve asked for it????? Right there, that’s a problem. I assume, Jane, that when you say “the city wants to micromanage…” you mean the City Council? or employees who work for the City Council? At some level, I’m part of the “the city” and I don’t feel one way or another.

    But, even if I were utterly convinced that the micromanaging were fully justified, I STILL think our elected officials owe it to their constituents to at least MEET and DISCUSS issues of the firefighters WITH the firefighters.

    Geesh. How obvious is this? Or, I guess, what am I missing?

    January 23, 2012
  7. Jane Moline said:

    Kathie: The fire department responds to emergencies and fires. They respond in a timely basis and at a relatively low cost to the city–ergo they are efficient in their operations and it has worked fine–it is a volunteer department at a very low cost and they have operated for years by electing their chief–

    Why must they change? Have a “professional chief” chosen by the safety director that –say the volunteers all resent–especially after they have already chosen their chief and the main candidate backed by Chief Taylor did not get it? So Chief Taylor will take over and make them have the fire chief he wants?

    They want to fix what is not broken- for whatever reason–whether to empire build for the new “safety chief” position or to claim that they have “fixed” a volunteer fire department on their resume for their next job or whatever-

    I am not agnostic about the operation of the fire department because I might need them to save me or my house one day–and I do not want to make volunteers who are serviing the community operate under unneccesary bureaucratic burdens.

    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    January 23, 2012
  8. Susan Hvistendahl said:

    Plenty of details for you, Griff, if you scroll through the archives of the Law Review show at http://www.kymnradio.net and see several radio shows on this topic, hosted by someone I have known all my life.

    January 23, 2012
  9. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: you basically asked two questions, one about the structure of the department, and one about the OSHA report.
    You said: “I don’t remember the seriousness of OSHA’s and the consultant’s findings but it was those reports of problems that triggered the move by the Council to make the NFD more accountable.”

    I do not think you are correct in your assumption for this reason: the OSHA report (requested by whom, by the way?) found some 56 , more or less, violations in the city buildings; nine in the FD, eight in the PD, and eight at City Hall!
    Yet the only one of those to be focussed on was the FD… WHY?

    By the time the ‘consultant’ got into the picture, she herself stated that they were all corrected except the operations manual, which was in the process of being re-written, by FD members, and the consultant gave a glowing report of that.

    It is my personal opinion that there were at least two other agenda operating, i.e., “we need a new public safety center and we have to prove that the current one is not safe”, and we need the FD to acquiesce to being under the Public Safety Director, Police Chief Taylor.

    There was ongoing, in a parallel path, a bunch of angst with the FD unrelated to the OSHA stuff; IMO mostly centered on the structure of the Dept,and who the heck knows what any of the truth surrounding that issue is because the fire dept, including the Chief, were under a “gag order” according to a lot of very credible people, and the Chief was being threatened with being insubordinate if he spoke, and the notion of changing the election process for the Chief was beginning to be bandied about.
    Too many unexplained conflicts; if there is no problem, explain why none exists.

    The City Hall reorganizational changes were first proposed by Joel Walinski, shortly before he left, then Tim Madigan came in as interim City Admin. Mr. Madigan said he would not want to implement those changes as an interim employee, and indeed after the following January, when he was permanently installed in the job, the Council voted to approve the proposed reorganization of City Hall Departments, creating the Public Safety Director, naming Police Chief Taylor to that position, and putting the Fire Department under that position.

    The FD were obviously not happy campers for what would seem to be many and varied reasons… and here’s where we get to the crux of the matter:
    In my opinion, there are entirely too many issues that are central to the functioning of this community, as well as being central to citizen concerns, which are never addressed by the Council in any in-depth public discussion.
    And these problems, and problem areas, are now piling up into a mound of undiscussed big problems that never seem to go away, i.e. the EDA and EDA appointments, a councilor’s accusations of illegal behavior against his colleagues, Charter Commission proposals including Form of Gov’t, and Ethics Board, and also the appointments to the Charter Commission (which has 4 vacancies, not the two reported by the Mayor and the newspaper), the Fire Chief hiring an attorney to preserve his contract rights, plus whatever is going on with the FD in general that makes them ask for a dept meeting with the Council.

    Then with the lack of acknowledgement of these problems, and no public discussion of them, and the Mayor refusing to meet with the FD which just reenforces the rumor mill, it begins to give one a rather queasy feeling about the quality of gov’t we are experiencing.

    This Council, as I have said before , is too ‘good’ for this state of affairs; but they must begin to exhibit the transparency they talked so much about last year, and if it can be done, dispel the unrest created by these ‘buried’ problems.

    January 23, 2012
  10. Kathie Galotti said:

    Jane: In no way do I mean to disagree with you about the quality or operation of the Fire Department folks. I’ve (thankfully) never yet needed their services. You make a good case for how well they do their jobs.

    My post was just meant to focus on the question of why the council won’t meet with the fire dept.

    I could go on, but Kiffi captures my sentiments in # 9 far better than I can at this point in the day, ie, before coffee.

    January 24, 2012
  11. kiffi summa said:

    Kathie: you said: “My issue is, what (good) reasons does the City Council have for NOT meeting with a group of 27 employees who’ve asked for it????? Right there, that’s a problem”…

    And you are correct, but my apprehension is that the Council will just go on about their ‘business’, and ignore this issue that has become very public, and for some months now.

    Council has a planning session tonight at their regular Council meeting time; I would find it a real positive breakthrough if they would call the entire fire department in, as was requested, and spend tonight’s time trying to clear up the problems in their relationship.

    Since such a meeting would not have been noticed as to content, it would have to be called as an ‘Emergency’ meeting; I think it would be reasonable to consider it just that.

    January 24, 2012
  12. Kathie Galotti said:

    #8, not #9. See what happens when I post before coffee?

    January 24, 2012
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiff, it looks like we both are wrong about the timing of the reorganization that included making the police chief the director of public safety. From the Sept 21, 2010 Council minutes:

    Interim Administrator Madigan introduced the proposed City reorganization plan and reviewed action steps and rationale. Madigan also answered questions posed by Council relating to potential pay adjustments, Fire Department concerns and how the new combined Community Development Department will function.

    Cathy Pesheck, 104 N. Plum St, expressed concerns about the Fire Department reporting to a Public Safety Director.

    The following Fire Department members and former members spoke against the creation of a Public Safety Department with a director to oversee both: Chief Gerry Franek, Wade Canedy, Tim Nelson, and Dave Canedy.

    A motion was made by C. Pownell and seconded by C. Pokorney to PASS RESOLUTION 2010-074 – APPROVING CITY REORGANIZATION PLAN. Yes votes by Pownell, Pokorney, Buckheit, Zweifel, Denison and Rossing. No vote by Vohs. Vote is 6-1. Motion carried.

    And according to this Nfld News article that appeared just prior to that council vote, it wasn’t Joel Walinski but Al Roder who first proposed the change:

    This isn’t the first time a suggested merger of the departments has come before the council. In January 2008, then-administrator Al Roder made a similar proposal. The motion failed 0-7 after Fire Chief Gerry Franek told council members that the firefighters did not support the plan.

    January 27, 2012
  14. kiffi summa said:

    good for you , Griff.. it takes a lot of perseverance to dig into the city website to that extent.

    Are you back from vacation, and just missing those rum punches?

    So from your evidence, this council has always been solidly in favor of the organizational change that put the Fire and Police both under one department head… I wonder how their thinking is going on that … now that there is virtually no community development, planning, or economical development staff; all of that falling on Michelle Merxbauer’s very capable shoulders … but the HRA which she is the head of, was always thought to be a full job in itself.

    Just another area of discussion that should come up in a big work session discussion, but never seems to:”what are we going to do for the staffing needs of these departments, given our personnel losses, and the dollars needed to replace them those positions; do we need those same positions, or should we restructure again , given the lack of construction going on?”

    January 27, 2012
  15. kiffi summa said:

    Actually, Griff, the meeting you reference, 9.21.2010 shows the reorganization plan being approved by the Council… but after looking back at those minutes, and then from my observer records knowing that the work session of 4.12.2011 had an update from Admin. Madigan on the reorganization plan.. I am still wondering if it was both approved and put into operation in 9.2010, or if it was only approved then as a structure,and not put into place until later.
    I was only at the first half of the 4.2011 meeting so I don’t have any notes on that agenda item, and there are no minutes on the work session.

    The lack of detail in the minutes (something that LWV observers have long complained about) makes it difficult sometimes to be sure of the action taken.
    Example: when the Council “receives” a report it only means that they have had it presented to them , and they acknowledge the receipt of it; it does not mean that they approve disapprove or have taken any related action.

    Maybe Jane Mc Williams can look at her observer notes and clarify when the reorganization plan was not just approved , but also put into place in day to day operation. (and make a point about minutes, also…)

    January 27, 2012
  16. Griff Wigley said:

    In this case, I don’t think it matters, Kiffi. The Council voted to approve the change in Sept. 2010. Their motivation then is what we’re referring to in our discussion here. It wasn’t in reaction to the OSHA report, which is what I wrongly assumed.

    January 27, 2012
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, re: the focus on the NFD, see this Dec. 20, 2011 Nfld News story, OSHA: Not all violations are equal.

    Among the serious violations the city was cited for: Having cold, not tepid water come out of the eye washes, using appliances without three-prong plugs, a blocked breaker box, a crawl space in the police department not labeled a confined space and an incomplete set of Standard Operating Procedures at the Fire Department.

    Public Safety Director Mark Taylor and Human Resources Director Elizabeth Wheeler consider the SOPs to be the most egregious violation. “The SOPs aren’t one item,” said Wheeler of the document that’s now several inches thick. The city was able to avoid fines.

    All but two issues were corrected within two weeks of Sanders’ departure. For the remainder, Sanders granted extensions: Fixing the eye washes and writing Standard Operating Procedures. The additional time allowed the city to apply for a federal grant to retrofit the eye washes and complete the SOPs, which took months to finish. Throughout the process, Taylor said, he was required to apprise Sanders of the department’s progress.

    Once they were completed, Taylor and Wheeler met with Sanders to review the document. Sanders said Tuesday that she was satisfied with the procedures, which she called necessary.

    January 27, 2012
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    Are Northfield’s firefighters volunteers in the usual sense of the word? I listened to the first 10 minutes of KYMN Jeff Johnson’s Dec. 7, 2011 interview with Mayor Mary Rossing, Public Safety Director Mark Taylor, and City Administrator Tim Madigan re: the fire dept road map.

    At the 1:20 mark, Rossing referred to them as “paid on-call firefighters” and a few seconds later: “But the idea that they’re independent… these are… employees of the City of Northfield.”

    At the 7:35 mark, Madigan referred to them as “volunteer on-call paid firefighters.”

    So it seems they were trying to be extra careful around the word ‘volunteer.’

    Apparently, Northfield’s firefighters get paid for responding to calls, for training, and for maintaining equipment. And after X years, they get some kind of pension. Is that right? Can anyone add details/confirm this?

    If that’s true, are there other activities that they don’t get paid for, hence the continued use of the name, Northfield Volunteer Fire Department?

    January 27, 2012
  19. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: the NFNews did not write a story that comprehensively reported all the 56-60 violations spread throughout the city’s buildings. I believe if you looked at the actual report chart, you would see that the majority were in the serious category.

    Jane Moline’s right… gotta lay off the kool-aid; the rum punches are soooooooo much better, and there’s a lot more sunlight n the caribbean , too!

    January 27, 2012
  20. Griff Wigley said:

    I can’t find any information about the Northfield Volunteer Fire Department on the City’s web site or anywhere else. No mention of it on the PD page.

    Or am I just missing it?

    January 27, 2012
  21. Griff Wigley said:

    Nov. 28 Nfld News: Attorney’s letter puts city on notice

    Unlike other public safety personnel, who are well paid for their work, Northfield’s firefighters receive little compensation for their efforts, said the attorney, serving more out of a sense of duty and a willingness to give back to their community.

    The Fire Department has 31 firefighters, including Franek. According to documents provided to the News by the Northfield Rural Fire Department, firefighters worked an average of about 173 hours in 2010. They were paid anywhere from $1,200 to $7,100 depending on the number of calls answered and hours they trained. The department’s officers were paid an additional $1,760. Franek’s chief’s pay was about $18,300 in 2010.

    January 27, 2012
  22. Curt Benson said:

    Griff, this link to KYMN’s Law Review is an interview with former Northfield Mayor and Fire Department member Jerry Anderson. It covers many of the issues you raise from the viewpoint of Fire Department Members. If I recall correctly, Anderson said the average compensation for Fire Department members was approximately $3000/year. He said members are paid for fire calls and training. They do other activities for free, ie visiting grade schools to teach about fire safety etc. I thought Anderson was quite persuasive.


    January 27, 2012
  23. Jane McWilliams said:

    Kiffi – are we confusing the administrative reorganization plan which created the director of public safety position with the recommendation of Michelle Soldo, consultant, who reported in a work session on the June 28, 2012: http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/p/packet208.pdf ? In her findings and recommendations, Soldo said “Significant and effective operational change also requires a significant time commitment on th part of all involved. The time constraints associated with Taylor’s dual role as Police Chief and PSD and the part-time role of the Fire Chief will make it difficult to timely and effectively implement necessarchanges. A dedicated, full-time Fire Command Administrator is required.”

    That report documents how Soldo worked with Taylor, Chief Franek and members of the fire department to create her report.

    Isn’t the creation of the Fire Command Admistrator position on hold? That’s the impression I got at the January 24 council planning session.

    January 28, 2012
  24. kiffi summa said:

    No… that’s not what I meant, Jane…

    I suppose it doesn’t matter except I was trying to establish when the actual city hall departmental reorganization was implemented.
    As griff noted, it was approved Sept21, 2010 by the Council, and my question was it also implemented at that time, or did the actual implementation come after Tim Madigan was appointed to be the permanent, rather than interim, administrator. And that’s why I asked what was the nature of the update on the reorganization which was provided at the 4.12. 2011 work session (No minutes from work session).

    I was just trying to put the strife over the structure of the Fire Department into a timeframe, i.e., how long has it been going on…

    January 28, 2012
  25. Mary Mills said:

    Jane – Extremely well put. Thank you. We definitely need changes in our city, but not the fire department. Mary

    January 28, 2012
  26. Griff Wigley said:

    I looked at the packet for the Sept. 21, 2010 council meeting and pages 96-107 cover the reorganization plan.

    Then interim City Admin Tim Madigan says he was asked by the mayor and council to review the reorganization plan developed by previous city admin Joel Walinski. Both Walinski’s plan and Madigan’s assessment of it are included in that section of the packet. It’s all images of the documents, not searchable PDFs so the text can’t be searched or copied/pasted. AARRGGHH! So I’ve typed up these excerpts related to the Fire Department:


    * One Public Safety Department: continue with Council designated Fire Chief and Police Chief.
    * The Director position would help improve communication, budget development and support services for both work groups within the department.
    * Oversight would improve efficiencies of support services for each division


    Will some departments or work groups “lose” in this reorganization since they will be directly reporting to the City Administrator e.g. Fire Department?

    * No, all departments will actually see improved management involvement since division directors can be better focused on the needs of the individual departments. It is common management wisdom that direct reports should consist of no more than 5 to 7 people.

    * The Fire Department is managed by an able part time Fire Chief. With the creation of the Public Safety Division, the Department will gaine administrative and clerical support, plus it will have a voice at “the table” during administrative and policy discussions.

    January 29, 2012
  27. Griff Wigley said:

    Here’s Public Safety Director Mark Taylor’s statement from the June 28 council work session packet, page 2.

    Noteworthy: “I shared the concerns that OSHA had documented as well as my own concerns about fire department operations.” He doesn’t say what his concerns were.

    In March 2011 after I received results of the OSHA study I consulted with City Administrator Tim Madigan and Director of HR, Safety, Risk and IT Elizabeth Wheeler. I shared the concerns that OSHA had documented as well as my own concerns about fire department operations.

    It was decided that a department overview to identify issues and resolutions was the most appropriate action. As a result Madigan authorized a FD operations review and risk management assessment. Michelle Soldo of Soldo and Associates was hired to conduct that professional overview.

    The issues that OSHA had identified were confirmed during this overview and further issues were discovered and identified. The fire department is a group of individuals that has and will continue to be dedicated to providing the best service possible. However, there were several issues related to operations that are significant and serious. It is imperative that these issues be dealt with promptly.

    January 29, 2012
  28. Griff Wigley said:

    Consultant Michelle Soldo’s report is on pages 3-23 of the June 28 council work session packet.

    The leadership/management-related recommendations by Mark Taylor are strikingly different from Gerry Franek’s.

    January 29, 2012
  29. Griff Wigley said:

    I get the impression that the consultant found that the culture of the FD HQ was a bit like a frat house, including concerns about consuming alcohol prior to going on calls as well as smoking and drinking alcohol on-site.

    On page 15 of her report (page 17 of the packet PDF):

    The FD does not have an SOP [standard operating procedure] addressing FFs [firefighters] smoking in the fire station and responding to calls following alchohol consumption.

    And then her subsequent recommendation, agreed to by both Taylor and Franek:

    It is recommended that the Fire Chief, in consultation with the PSD [Public Safety Director] develop and implement SOP’s addressing: a) Fire Station maintenance; b) FF smoking and drinking at the Fire Station and on surrounding City property; and c) FF response to fire calls after the consumption of alcohol. City policies prohibit smoking and drinking on City property. For safety and liability reasons, the implementation and strict enforcement of zero tolerance policies is recommended.

    It makes me wonder if this is the reason that the she did individual interviews of all the FFs and why Taylor issued his order (referred to by some as a ‘gag order’) for them to not talk to one another during the time that these interviews were conducted.

    January 29, 2012
  30. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: do you think it is worth asking why there is so much emphasis on the 9 violations attributed to the FD, and virtually no emphasis on the other 55-60 violations in city buildings, including 8 in the P{olice Dept, and 8 at City Hall ?

    January 29, 2012
  31. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    What does anyone think of NNews recent editorial supporting Mayor Rossing in not meeting with firefighters? What role is the newspaper playing in all this? Sorry if this question has already been addressed.

    January 31, 2012
  32. kiffi summa said:

    Well. isn’t it interesting, Steph, how the newspaper often gives an opinion on the ‘right or wrong’ of an action without making much of a case for their POV? But then , I don’t remember them making much of all the OSHA violations that were spread throughout the city’s buildings, either, but just focussing on the Fire hall.

    Yesterday morning MNPR had a very thought provoking program which dealt with the effectiveness of various gov’t structure styles. It was thought by their guest, Prof Mark Heatherington of Vanderbilt Univ. that the most effective gov’t is one that allows the most ‘direct democracy’. He has studied all sizes of gov’t units , and finds that response to the public is the key to success; a top down power hierarchy promotes distrust.

    I think it is interesting to look at the last few years of NF projects, or proposals, that have not been successfully completed or implemented, and assess the level of public input that has seriously been considered by the senior staff /Council… how that relationship has worked right here …

    Until very recently, I think you might say there was a ‘topdown’ problem between staff and Council on street projects; think of the Linden/Plum street projects and the redesign of Jefferson Road. ( differing perceptions of who was on ‘top’)

    Thankfully, that now seems to be corrected…. but there is more work to be done on this basic relationship problem.
    If the Mayor considers the firemen to be city employees , and the firemen consider themselves to be paid-on-call volunteers, then right off the bat we have a relationship problem.

    Hey ! don’t we have a lot of family therapists in this town?

    February 1, 2012
  33. Kathie Galotti said:

    I respectfully disagree with the NN editorial. Especially if the firefighters are only getting paid like $3000/year each, then if they are dissatisfied, there’s very little to stop them from just saying “to hell with it” and resigning. Then where will we be??

    It seems to me that the Council could decide to meet and at least LISTEN. I’m not seeing at all why this is regarded as a bad thing, esp. given all the circumstances.

    February 1, 2012
  34. Phil Poyner said:

    Without going into the legalities of the whole thing (I’ll leave that to the lawyers), I agree with the editorial and the Mayor’s actions. That having been said, I don’t see the newspaper’s role as anything more than being a mechanism through which the opinion of one citizen is aired.

    February 1, 2012
  35. Griff Wigley said:

    I spoke this week with a recently retired Twin Cities area police chief. When I gave him a quick summary of what was happening in Northfield with the Fire Department, he said it was a common scenario with fire departments all over the state and country, ie, this transition between a non-profit/membership volunteer fire department to one that’s a municipal department of the city, much like police, public works, etc.

    When I read him the paragraph of the consultant’s report recommending an SOP/policy about “smoking and drinking at the Fire Station and on surrounding City property,” he laughed and said something to effect of “Oh yeah, they’ve probably had the fire station fridge or pop machine stocked with beer.” I think that was the case here in Northfield for a hundred-plus years. I don’t know when it ended.

    And here’s what the City and the League of MN Cities are probably afraid of: Volunteer Fire Fighter Dies in Apparatus Crash – Ohio:

    Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include driving with a blood alcohol level in excess of the legal limit, not wearing seat belts, incorrectly judging the passing clearance when approaching a stopped vehicle, failure to keep the apparatus on the road surface, overcorrecting during the recovery maneuver, and limited experience with the incident apparatus.

    The NIOSH investigator concluded that, in order to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should:

    Enforce standard operating procedures on a “zero-tolerance policy” for alcohol use while engaged in any fire department activity.

    Enforce standard operating procedures that require mandatory use of seat belts in all vehicles.

    Consider additional driver training for fire fighters on safe driving and apparatus operations.

    Train apparatus driver/operators in regaining control when the right-side wheels leave the road surface.

    I poked around and found that the International Fire Chiefs Association recommended a Zero-Tolerance for Alcohol & Drinking in the Fire and Emergency Service policy back in 2003. If I was a Nfld city councilor or public safety chief, I’d wonder why we’ve not had something similar.

    Here’s an example of such a policy by a rural county in South Carolina that’s about the same size as Rice County.

    February 4, 2012
  36. Griff Wigley said:

    I found this 2003 U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) document titled Leadership in the transition from a nonprofit combination fire department to a municipal combination fire department.

    It looks like it has some applicability to our situation:

    Over the past decade there have been approximately 254 fire departments in North Carolina that have moved from an all-volunteer department to a combination fire department of both volunteers and paid fire fighters. This transition can cause a great deal of passion and emotion for members of the volunteer fire department that are embarking on this change whether voluntary or mandatory.

    In 1998 the Fuquay-Varina Rural Fire Department dissolved the nonprofit fire department corporation and transitioned to a municipal combination fire department, thus becoming the Town of Fuquay-Varina Fire Department. This merger from a rural fire department to a municipal fire department will be examined for effective leadership during this transition.

    The purpose of this Applied Research Project is to identify leadership skills required of senior management in managing volunteers and paid fire fighters during the transformational process from a nonprofit combination fire department to a municipal combination fire department.

    February 4, 2012
  37. Jane McWilliams said:

    Thanks, Griff, for the info in #19 and 20.

    The assessment and recommendations by the consultant, Michelle Soldo, illustrates the USFA doc you quote: “it was a common scenario with fire departments all over the state and country, ie, this transition between a non-profit/membership volunteer fire department to one that’s a municipal department of the city, much like police, public works, etc.” The changes in governance and in staffing reflect a modern concept of municipal fire protection.

    She notes that the department has been volunteer since the 19th century and has “demonstrated their commitment to meeting the needs of a growing community and their community services efforts are widely recognized.” At the same time, she found “deficiencies with respect to FD operations. . . including operational deficiencies that compromise the safety of City FFs and may expose the City to potential legal liability.” (p. 4 of her report: http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/p/packet208.pdf

    The coincidence of the appointment of Chief Taylor as Public Safety Director, the OSHA review and subsequent Soldo review has been threatening to the FFs and has implications for the selection and authority of the position of the chief. While all of this is awkward, in my opinion, in the long run, once the changes are complete, the department will have moved into the 21st century, similarly to others in MN and around the country.

    It is hard to make change, especially when to date the shortcomings of an outmoded system have not created any problems, Still, it is folly to stick with a system which is outdated and has potential for serious problems. Soldo’s report documents the careful involvement of members of the department in gathering information, and while the FFs may disagree with her conclusions, I hope they are satisfied that they had a role in data gathering. I also hope that we will support the city as it eases in the changes necessary to bring our FD up to modern standards while also acknowledging this will be a change for the members of the FD.

    February 4, 2012
  38. Phil Poyner said:

    Jane, that was an awesome summary and reflect many of my feelings about these changes. I don’t see the city’s intent in all this as being a grab for control but rather one of professionalizing the firefighting force. Similar things have happened to the National Guard over the years, often with a lot of push-back, but it’s resulted in units rising from non-deployable status during the first Gulf War to the combat-ready units we see today. Fire fighting has become a lot more “scientific” over the years, and keeping up with changes in the field is important.

    February 4, 2012
  39. kiffi summa said:

    Here’s my observation: there has been no talk of having the firefighters as city employees, I.e. a full time city-paid fire department. And I doubt the city could afford that now with all the cutbacks, etc.

    So… what’s the point of creating a hybrid, i.e. the same sort of paid/oncall/volunteer fire department, but putting it under the structure that would exist if it were actually part of the city’s employment organization?
    Isn’t that what’s causing the stress?

    Let’s have one or the other, but not try to force two ’emotionally’ incompatible models into one form which is satisfactory to no one, it would seem …

    And I still don’t see why the Mayor cannot listen to the comments of the fire department, as it exists now, without any administrative filter … these guys have not failed us; they’ve taken very good care of us or we would not have the good fire insurance rating that we have…

    Maybe a full discussion will clear up perceptions on both sides; how can it hurt?

    P.S. I’m thinking of the City’s organizational chart, the usual pyramid, but at the very top of the pyramid, above the Council , that box says “Citizens”…
    Aren’t the firefighters “citizens” ?

    February 4, 2012
  40. Griff Wigley said:

    I don’t see it mentioned in Michelle Soldo’s report but it seems problematic to me that we have no female firefighters among the 30 or so on the force. And as far as I know, we haven’t had one in the history of the department.

    The April 2008 cover story of Fire Chief magazine is titled A Fair Shake: Study Finds Gender Discrimination; A new study paints an unflattering picture of how women are treated in the fire service.

    Some excerpts:

    Why are departments so slow in adopting anti-discriminatory and anti-harassment policies and practices, which long ago became standard in most law-abiding, well-managed American workplaces? The study concludes that the workplace culture in most departments continues to resent female firefighters and, consciously or unconsciously, intends to exclude them.

    Formally defined, a workplace’s culture is the system of beliefs, values and ways of behaving common to that workplace. More simply, it is the way things are done around here. Workplace cultures tend to resist change both actively and passively. Resistance tends to be strongest where employees remain for long careers, personal relationships are important, traditions are maintained with pride, and employment is well rewarded — all characteristics of firefighting.

    Nevertheless, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s manual on female firefighters puts it, “It is the mystique of interior structural firefighting that lures most recruits to city fire departments, and it remains the psychological focus of the urban firefighter’s job….” This mystique equally remains the focus of resistance to women. To their male peers, female firefighters represent more than competitors for jobs or constraints on freewheeling aspects of firehouse life. They also silently challenge the self-esteem male firefighters derive from doing a job for which only a select few have the right stuff. In these circumstances, the opposition shown in the study is not surprising.

    These cultural dynamics are not unique to women in firefighting. Whenever the demographic diversity of a work force increases, inter-group relations tend initially to worsen rather than improve. Accordingly, departments cannot simply hire women and allow them to sink or swim, but instead need strategies to ensure their inclusion.

    February 5, 2012
  41. Griff Wigley said:

    And here’s another example (December, 2011) of why the City of Northfield and the League of MN Cities might be afraid of a lawsuit:

    Sexual discrimination suit brought against North Wildwood, volunteer fire company

    Two women who wanted to join the North Wildwood Volunteer Fire Company No.1 were allegedly told that they would disrupt a 100- year history of a men-only organization by Chief Les Cline after their applications were voted down.

    The two residents are suing the city, the North Wildwood Volunteer Fire Company No.1, a number of its members and the battalion chief after they say they couldn’t join the volunteer fire organization because they were women.

    February 5, 2012
  42. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, I agree, I don’t think anyone is considering changing to full-time firefighters. But the fact is, the FD became a department over a year ago and the FF’s are essentially part-time employees, just like many other city departments have part-time employees.

    And so the problem now is now is how can the City and Public Safety Chief Taylor get control of the FD so that the many operational and cultural changes needed are implemented before something bad happens and the City gets sued. Taylor evidently didn’t think it could be done with Fire Chief Franek at the helm but Franek hired lawyer David Hvistendahl who I guess found a clause in Franek’s contract that has now caused the City to evidently cave on that for now.

    February 5, 2012
  43. Griff Wigley said:

    Kathie, I think it’s a bad idea for the Mayor and Council to meet with the firefighters because it does the exact opposite of what’s needed right now.

    The City’s got a Fire Department that used to operating as an independent unit and whose Chief mostly wants to keep it that way. If the Mayor and the Council meet with the FFs, they’re essentially signaling to all involved that indeed, they’re independent can ignore Taylor and Madigan on these issues and whatever others come up.

    It’s a structural issue, much like a difficult teenager who doesn’t like the disciplinary methods his parents are using and who wants takes his case to the grandparents. If the grandparents agree, they empower the teen and are likely to make the behavior worse. The grandparents might want to get involved but it should only be done in concert with the parents.

    February 5, 2012
  44. kiffi summa said:

    But Griff, if you look at the minutes, and who spoke, at the various meetings about reorganization of the City hall staff/departments, you will see that the firemen objected to the creation of a Public Safety Director from the beginning.

    So this, in my mind, is another long term problem that was not adequately dealt with right from the start, i.e. the firefighters always objected to being considered a department of the city, or regular employees of the city, who would function under a department head who was not their chosen leader.

    One can argue about whether they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but the point is they have not been accorded adequate ‘listening time’ from the beginning, so it has built up a lot of resentment at having a structure imposed upon them.

    February 5, 2012
  45. Kathie Galotti said:

    Griff, I’m going to continue to respectfully disagree.

    First, going off of Kiffi’s recent remark (22.1.1), it seems like the FFs have legitimate issues that ought to have been heard.

    Second, meeting with them (once) and hearing their concerns does not imply agreement or support. It implies willingness to hear them out and treat their concerns with the respect they haven’t (apparently) received to date.

    Third: If, as you say, the workplace environment is frat-like then I’m one of the first to agree that swift change is needed. The mayor and council could certainly say this at the meeting.

    Fourth: Your analogy makes me wince a little. In employment disputes, comparing one side to a teenager and the other to a righteous parent seems to prejudge the issue of who has legitimacy.
    And, having actually lived out the scenario of having a rebellious teen acting out toward me, the parent, it actually helped a great deal that he had other adults to go to who would hear him out. Not agree with him, not egg him on to act badly, but to hear him out and express their support for him as a person. It didn’t, in fact, make his behavior worse, and it perhaps prevented him from taking some sort of reckless action that would have caused permanent harm.

    I do worry that, given the apparently extreme part-time nature of the job, that the FFs could all decide to just walk away–altogether at once. And if that were to happen, we are up a creek as a community. It’s not like there’d be hundreds of out-of-towners coming forward to take a job that pays three grand a year.

    Just my 2 cents. Not trying to judge whether the FFs are right or wrong here.

    February 5, 2012
  46. john george said:

    Griff- I agree with your point, but I don’t think the teenager/parent analogy is accurate. I would more compare this to a workplace dispute over a change in the procedures. Having gone through some things like this over my years of employment, the employees can raise a ruccus all they want, but when a management decision has been made, it won’t do much good. Just because the City Government is elected, it doesn’t mean that the business of the city, which fire protection is, is to be run by Democratic process.

    February 5, 2012
  47. Griff Wigley said:

    On Dec. 1, City Administrator Tim Madigan objected to lawyer David Hvistendahl’s insulting remarks on the Nov. 30 Law Review radio show. Madigan attached this comment to the blog post for the show:

    For the past 15 plus years I have worked successfully with Dave Hvistendahl on a number of issues and projects, so I was dismayed to hear his negative personal comments about me and Mark Taylor on the radio show. I realize the introduction to the show states that the radio program is for entertainment purposes; still, it was an inappropriate way to create a public discussion on a sensitive Northfield issue.

    Dave has the right to express himself however he wishes, but I question if this is really the style of civic engagement that the Northfield community expects from community leaders.

    I’ve only listened to part of that show but I’m guessing he’s referring to Hvisty’s snide remarks when he disses Taylor because he’s got no fire dept experience on his resume and when he refers to Northfield city administrators as “itinerant professionals” and “wanderers” and “generic professionals, picked off the shelf…”

    I don’t blame Madigan. I thought Hvistendahl was way out of line.

    February 6, 2012
  48. Griff Wigley said:

    Imagine if Hvistendahl had not been hired by Fire Chief Franek but instead by a couple of female applicants for FF positions who are going to sue the City for discrimination in hiring. He’d be ranting and raving about how ridiculous the city was for its antiquated fire department, lack of a SOP manual, etc. etc. I know, I know, that’s what lawyers do but I think it’s important to remember when listening to Hvisty rant and rave as if he’s taking the moral high ground.

    February 6, 2012
  49. Jane Moline said:

    I can’t believe I have to bring up my mother’s advice: DON’T GO BORROWING TROUBLE!

    If some women want to join the fire department in Northfield, we must be afraid that our fire department MIGHT respond like North Wildwood’s neanderthal (volunteer neanderthal’s) fire department?

    If some women want to join Northfield’s fire department, Dave Hvistendahl MIGHT not want to defend the chief against the overreaching power grab by the city administration?

    Well, damn, we could have fire emergency on a Sunday night–say for the Super Bowl and the VOLUNTEER firemen might be partying and might not respond appropriately and then maybe somebody will sue somebody.

    OOPS. I guess we did have a fire emergency during the Super Bowl and our volunteer fire deparment responded and saved the buiding and all 38 mostly-vulnerable adults were evacuated and saved!

    Our fire deparment does not deserve the these attacks that appeart to be motivated by an administration that is empire-building to go along with a Taj-Mahal safety center.

    The police department had more OSHA safety violations than the fire deparment–why don’t we consider changing the way that is run?

    P.S. I am well known as a proponent of women’s rights, and I find it insulting that there is this speculative assumption that since it currently all male it is somehow a sexist organization. I have known these people for years and they are doing an outstanding job–they do not deserve being pilloried for potentiality.

    February 6, 2012
  50. kiffi summa said:

    Jane: Both our Mom’s were smart, and they knew about the problems with “borrowing trouble” i.e don’t stir up problems that are non existent; there’s enough current problems to deal with, and even some of those aren’t being dealt with!

    But you know, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you cite the number of OSHA offenses at the Police dept, or at City Hall, some people just keep ranting on about the problems, or non-existent problems with the Fire dept…

    I would just like this question answered: How did we get, and maintain the good rating we enjoy on our fire insurance ???

    Thank you, Northfield Firefighters!

    February 6, 2012
  51. Griff Wigley said:

    Jane/Kiffi, I did some family of origin research and it turns out your mothers actually said “A stitch in time saves nine” and “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” about 3-4 times more often than “Don’t go borrowing trouble.”

    I’ll have more to say on this tomorrow so in the meantime, “Don’t get your panties in a bunch” as my father used to say. 😉

    February 7, 2012
  52. Jane Moline said:

    Griff: you really didn’t know my mother and how do you even know if I wear panties?

    February 7, 2012
  53. kiffi summa said:

    Our mothers consider the ‘bunched panties’ remark too squalid to pass either their sainted lips, or those of their darling daughters… and seriously doubt whether it was said during your father’s time!

    February 7, 2012
  54. Griff Wigley said:

    Here’s the so-called ‘gag order’ memo from Public Safety Director Mark Taylor, directed to all Firefighters on April 2, 2011 before they were interviewed by the consultant Michelle Soldo:

    Read between the lines of Item #3. It’s telling, methinks:

    Any violation of these directives, and any retaliatory conduct directed at any Fire Department employees will result in disciplinary action, up to and including, discharge.

    Taylor discussed this memo with KYMN’s Jeff Johnson back on Dec. 7, 2011 when he appeared on Jeff’s show with Mayor Mary Rossing and City Administrator Tim Madigan.

    February 8, 2012
  55. Griff Wigley said:

    As far as I can tell, Public Safety Director Mark Taylor first used the term “road map” or “roadmap” in his June 28, 2011 memo to the Mayor and Council for their Work Session on the same day. The packet for that session includes all the documentation from OSHA and consultant Soldo, as well as related attachments from the League of MN Cities and by-laws, etc for the NFD.

    Taylor updated his FD road map for his overall budget presentation on Nov. 28. 2011. See p. 28 of the packet.

    On October 3, 2011, the firefighters took a vote on Taylor’s road map. The wording on the ballot:

    The public safety director Mark Taylor, has presented his “road map” for the fire department. Do you, as a Northfield Volunteer Firefighter, support his “road map” as it is presented?

    Here’s a photo copy of the results, handwritten on a ballot. It reads:


    A Departmental voite taken at 21:20 HRS

    After much discussion was

    26 NO – 1 ABSTAIN – 4 ABSENT

    February 8, 2012
  56. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, City Administrator Tim Madigan explains the City’s ISO rating on KYMN’s show back on Dec. 7, 2011. The ISO rating doesn’t take into account many of the issues raised in Soldo’s report.

    The number of OSHA violations found in other city departments are irrelevant to this discussion, IMHO. The fire department’s issues are being focused on because of structural/organizational/cultural/leadership reasons and that’s no piece of cake to resolve.

    February 8, 2012
  57. Griff Wigley said:

    In comment #26 above, Jane Moline wrote:

    Our fire deparment does not deserve the these attacks that appeart to be motivated by an administration that is empire-building to go along with a Taj-Mahal safety center.

    Jane, I’ve heard from several people that they think the motivation to reorganize the Fire Department (going back to recommendations by City Administrators Al Roder and Joel Walinski) is linked to the desire on their part (and now Tim Madigan) and that of the City Council (then and now) to build a new combined Safety Center.

    I’ve been on record here on LoGro for quite a while that I don’t support the current plan for a new combined Safety Center. I’d rather see us spend money on a new fire hall, new fire trucks/equipment, and convert the current Safety Center to a Police Station.

    But former City Councilor Kris Vohs, a long-time vocal proponent of the combined Safety Center, voted NO on the reorganization plan. If there was some secret council/city agenda or rationale to use the FD reorganization to help sell the combined Safety Center, surely Kris would have voted yes with the others.

    I just don’t see a hidden conspiracy on this issue. I think primary motivation to fix the significant FD issues are separate from the motivation to build combined Safety Center.

    I could be wrong, of course.

    February 8, 2012
  58. Griff Wigley said:


    What are the FFs’ issues that have not been heard? They all had a chance to talk individually to Soldo and long before that, several spoke against the reorganization plan to the Council. They’ve been listened to, just not agreed with. They don’t like the change in structure.

    My family analogy is not about providing an outlet for listening. It’s about undermining. Sure, rebellious teens and unhappy employees can benefit from having other adults to talk to for airing their grievances.

    But structure is hugely important, in families, in the military, and in organizations. If a group of unhappy soldiers want to take their grievances straight to the General, bypassing the Captain, or the Major (forgive my lack of knowledge of rank), it would be hugely undermining with significant negative repercussions.

    So it seems to me that it’s wise for Mayor Rossing and the Council to decline the FFs’ request to meet with them. It would be a significant undermining of Taylor’s and Madigan’s authority.

    February 8, 2012
  59. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: regardless of Mr. Madigan’s explanation, the ISO rating is awarded by the insurance company, and yes… it takes into account several factors i.e. response time etc.; however the ISO rating NF residents enjoy does not come from a fire department that is not functioning well or is not deserving of that rating.

    That rating cannot be diminished by a specious, and what I would characterize as a rather defensively ‘positioned’, explanation.

    **** Insurance ratings are built on facts and actuarial tables.
    Insurance companies can be fierce in their reliance on their actuarial analysis; our department has to be high in performance to have the rating it has earned.

    February 8, 2012
  60. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I was dong the LWV observing at the Council meeting you reference above; I do not recall hearing , or seeing in the packet materials, this vote by the firefighters that you reference.

    I, of course, could be wrong and/or just not remembering… but, given the level of controversy, I think this vote by the firefighters would have occasioned a discussion by the council, of the ramifications of that vote, had it been presented to them.
    After all, this is a vote of “no confidence” for a Dept. Head.

    The question then remains, would this not have been a serious matter for full Council discussion?

    February 8, 2012
  61. kiffi summa said:

    Grff: your third paragraph above does not make a succinct argument, MO, in that Kris Vohs was expressing such feelings of being at odds with his council/city role (except for the fine work of the HRA), that he ultimately resigned, saying that the controversy was damaging his health.

    I don’t think it is possible to ascertain what his vote against the reorganization plan meant; he would have to explain that position.

    February 8, 2012
  62. Jane Moline said:

    Griff: I agree with Kiffi-Kris’ vote does not prove or disprove anything except that he did not agree with what was being voted on at that time—

    And I do not think this is a “hidden conspiracy.” It is right out in the open. Many of the steps, like the “need” to reorganize the fire department, the “need” to have a consultant consult about reorganization, the “need” to follow someone else’s idea of “best practices” are all part and parcel of the same direction–if we can show how bad it is in the current building we will convince the public that the new safety center must be built.

    That they are doomed to failure does not matter–the people of Northfield are not too excited with the idea of shelling out millions of dollars right now when they believe that they can get by a little longer with the status quo—the fire deparment attack was already under way and now has a life of its’ own. They are accumulating data–like a hired gun to “consult” with why they must change and reports that pile up impressive amounts of paper claiming that what we are doing is bad and wrong—.

    Kiffi made a good point is saying that only identifying the fire deparement for reorganization and using the OSHA report as ammunition while ignoring the violations in other departments means that they are really not worried about the violations–they are using the violations for propaganda purposes–to pursuade the public that their reorganization plan is needed.

    I repeat–if that were true, we must need to reorganize other city departments right away.

    February 9, 2012
  63. Kathie Galotti said:


    I don’t think that individual conversations between one FF and one CC member are the same as one (ONE!) single group conversation between the FFs and the CC. And, I don’t think the “you only have 3 minutes at the mike and for god’s sake don’t expect any of us to respond to you” policy at CC meetings cuts it, either.

    The School Board enacted these policies awhile back, and the net effect is that the public is shut out of discussion with them. Yes, you can have individual conversations, but they generally amount to nothing. Typically, the individual SB member leans forward, nods, furrows their brow—they might even write down a note or two and promise to “talk to the Superintendant right away”–but then only small or superficial changes happen (if even that).

    Cutting out group discussion cuts out accountability of one group to the other. Again, jmho. And, I’m not taking sides on the Fire Dept are a bunch of frat boys vs. the Fire Dept are a much-maligned group of underpaid public servants on this one–simply don’t know enough.

    I do think our CC is dysfunctional (as are our state and national legislatures, for that matter). I also think the school board is dysfunctional–in another ”
    Stepford Wives” kind of way. I hate to see the CC following their example.

    February 9, 2012
  64. Griff Wigley said:

    If Northfield firefighters Jeff Machacek or Mike Kruse retire tomorrow, they each would get a lump sum of about $285,000 because they’ve got 38+ years of service. Fire Chief Franek would get a lump sum of about $195,00 for his 26+ years. All FF’s with 20 years or more accrue a pension of $7,500 per year of service (less than 20 years, it’s pro-rated). FF’s don’t have to contribute to their pensions themselves.

    See the packet from the City Council March 9, 2010 Work Session, pages 35-109 for a comprehensive overview of the Fire Department finances & operations, including pay and benefit structure.

    Why do I bring this up?

    1. I think it’s another reason why the use of the term ‘volunteer’ is misleading and should be dropped. Many citizens are likely unaware that the volunteers are actually paid $21/hr for fire calls and $16/hr for meetings and training. And I’m guessing most citizens would be surprised to know that guys who retire after they’ve been volunteering for 20 years walk away with a lump sum of $150,000.

    2. I don’t think we have to worry about a mass exodus of FFs who are upset with the department’s reorganization or changes from the Road Map. The FF’s have an interesting and challenging PT job with a great pension, and the incentive to stay 20+ years is significant.

    3. If we do lose some FF’s who are upset with the reorg plan, I would guess it would be those close to retirement anyway. I’d also guess that there’d be a large number of people applying for the open positions. For most young people in the workforce, pensions are a thing of the past and they likely see how most everyone’s 401k’s are in the toilet. So a pension paid in a lump that requires no personal contribution is pretty dang attractive.

    I should make it clear that I don’t object to the pay or the pension plan. I think FF’s deserve a good benefit plan like this because of the risky work they do. But it’s more than a little disingenuous to keep marketing themselves as volunteers while keeping the hourly pay and pension benefits quiet.

    February 9, 2012
  65. kiffi summa said:

    There is nothing “disingenuous”, Griff, about the either the hourly pay… which is to be on call 24/7 … or the benefit plan.

    I believe it is mandatory (by the state) to have such a benefit plan, and I don’t think the city can choose to vary the amount; I believe they are required to participate.
    Now I could certainly be wrong, and I would welcome any correction… but this issue of the benefits the firefighters receive is no different than any other process the ‘City’ participates in… you have to listen to Council meetings to know what’s going on at that level. We have no other in-depth source of reporting.

    I would be surprised if many residents could tell you what City department heads get paid, what their benefits are, what Council members get paid (not enough ! ), what a Police squad car costs with its electronic accessories… or a lot of other factual information about how the ‘City’ operates.

    We have recently had a city department head retire, and then be hired back as a consultant; we are still under the separation agreement that Councilors Pokorney and Vohs negotiated for former City Administrator Roder which pays his legal fees… and yes, that is still going on 4 years later…

    There’s a lot that needs to happen to ‘run’ a city, and anyone may disagree with any part of it, but this situation where the firefighters are being treated like obstreperous employees … and they are not ’employees’ although they are paid for their services… is, IMO, just ridiculous.

    They should not be forced into an administrative structure with which they do not agree. The City has the option of creating a fulltime paid FD if they want to, and can afford it; but the ‘City” cannot have it both ways.

    It is a unique situation, and deserves a unique and fully honest discussion with the full Council.

    February 10, 2012
  66. Kathie Galotti said:

    Okay, Griff, you’ve directly addressed some of my concerns. I stand corrected. The benefit package is indeed an attractive one (and well deserved, as Kiffi notes). So you are right (and I was wrong) about the specter of a mass exodus. And, you’re right, they really aren’t as much “volunteer” as I thought.

    Still and all, I stand by what I said about the CC meeting with the FF. Once. To have a back-and-forth discussion. If necessary, CC could invite Taylor and Madigan to correct any misperceptions having the ONE meeting might bring about. I think any group of employees that is being reorganized in some big fundamental way should have this right.

    February 10, 2012
  67. Phil Poyner said:

    I agree with Ms Summa in part, but I also disagree. I agree that there is nothing “disingenuous” about “marketing themselves as volunteers”. They are governed by the same rules and have the same benefits as any other volunteer fire department in Minnesota, and if a lay person is confused as to what benefits and obligations being a “volunteer firefighter” may entail, it’s that persons fault and not the firefighters. They are “marketing” themselves as “Minnesota volunteer firefighters”, which is exactly what they are.

    However, I disagree with Ms Summa’s statement that volunteer firefighters are not employees; I believe that legally they are. I think this question came up in MN previously because some cities were not providing workers comp to their volunteer firefighters because they “weren’t employees of the city”. The MN Supreme Court determined that M.S. 176.011, subd. 9(3), which states that “”Employee” means any person who performs services for another for hire including the following: (3) a sheriff, deputy sheriff, police officer, firefighter, county highway engineer, and peace officer while engaged in the enforcement of peace or in the pursuit or capture of a person charged with or suspected of crime;” meant that even volunteer firefighters were employees, and that they were entitled to workers comp. Furthermore, the League of Minnesota Cities states that “Regardless of a firefighter’s status—whether full-time paid, paid-on-call, or volunteer—firefighters are considered city employees for most purposes, including things such as workers’ compensation insurance and various employment laws.” Now, I’m not a lawyer, nor do I claim to have any legal education (beyond a basic understanding of the UCMJ and MCM), but from my simplistic read of the volunteer firefighter’s employment status I’d most definitely call them part-time city employees. Maybe one of our lawyer friends can shoot holes in my argument.

    I also disagree with the idea that somehow in this whole process the firefighters are being portrayed as “obstreperous” or “frat-boyish” or in any way less than what they are: honorable and dedicated volunteer firefighters. But the fact is that regulatory officials and consultants have determined that their organization has some issues, some of which are easy fixes and some that require more jarring solutions. It is my belief (and others are free to believe differently) that the city is taking reasonable steps to attempt to address those issues.

    February 10, 2012
  68. kiffi summa said:

    Thanks, Phil… by your court decision definition, it is correct to call them employees.
    I was parsing it out further in my mind, ( and incorrectly, it would seem) and saying they are ’employed’ by the city to provide a service, but do not fall into the generally accepted realm of ’employees’ that full time , salaried persons occupy.

    February 10, 2012
  69. Jane Moline said:

    Griff, I still think you are way off–the fire fighters are volunteers–many times they must leave their regular job and give up their regular pay to answer a fire call–and their regular pay may be at a higher rate-and their employer must agree to accomodate their sudden absence–they may be an employee by definition for legal liability purposes, but they do not have a “job with the city.”

    $150,000 lump sum after 20 years may sound like a lot–and it is high in comparison to thier annual “earnings” from firefighting–which averages about $3,000 per year–but it will simply make retirement a little easier–it is not going to pull anyone out of poverty or make anyone rich. (a 30-year annuity purchased at 150,000 assuming 5% would provide around $750 per month.)

    February 10, 2012
  70. Griff Wigley said:

    Jerry Rice, retired First Assistant Fire Chief and member of Northfield Fire & Rescue from 1962 to 1988, had a guest commentary in the Wed. Nfld News titled A tradition about to be destroyed?

    It is appalling to watch an organization that has functioned well for many years having to defend itself to the officials of this city. How can a city council, described by its own membership as dysfunctional, and administrators who are new to Northfield, feel qualified to completely restructure an organization dedicated to serving this community with honor, distinction and minimal taxpayer cost? Should this restructuring proceed, a 140-year tradition of loyalty, trust, camaraderie, dedication, competence and volunteer service will be destroyed, and at what cost? Then who will be liable?

    February 10, 2012
  71. Griff Wigley said:

    I’ve spent about 4 hours this week talking to other people about this issue, trying to get a better understanding of the issues and everyone’s perspectives.

    Among them: Jerry Anderson, Rural Fire Administrator (also former Northfield Fire and Rescue Captain and former Northfield mayor), Northfield Mayor Mary Rossing, Northfield City Administrator Tim Madigan, Dundas City Administrator John McCarthy, a Nfld firefighter, and a Nfld police officer.

    If anyone else reading along here would like to talk to me about your perspective, either on or off the record, contact me.

    February 10, 2012
  72. Griff Wigley said:

    Jerry Anderson, Rural Fire Administrator (also former Northfield Fire and Rescue Captain and former Northfield mayor), has a guest column in today’s Nfld News about last week’s 52nd annual Firemen’s Banquet. It’s titled, Proud and embarrassed at the same time.

    I was embarrassed and thought it was quite unfortunate that Mayor Mary Rossing, City Administrator Tim Madigan and Chief Mark Taylor who were invited but were not in attendance at this annual event. It seems if they were unable to attend it would have been an appropriate gesture of support to have themselves represented by other members of city government or city staff. It is hoped the firemen know they are supported and appreciated by their community, its residents and city governments.

    Last year the city council created a “new roadmap” for better success in the fire department. It seems that support for our volunteers was not part of the “new roadmap.”

    Proud but embarrassed.

    February 11, 2012
  73. kiffi summa said:

    Unless it was the same night as the Council meeting, there is no immediate understandable excuse for the Mayor and the City Administrator to not have attended this dinner, and none for the Police Chief.
    What are they thinking?

    They seem to be so intent on simply exerting ‘power’, establishing their dominant position, that common courtesy has been lost. The more they do things like this, the more the public distrusts; how many times do we have to see this scenario play out?

    Think back to the beginnings of the struggle to reclaim the land for Way Park, when the top City Staff was pushing for a 90 unit, 5 story apartment complex to be built there… on land given to the city for a park, and then used for 40-50 years for the city hospital… and the resulting multi-year fight to reclaim that land for its original dedicated use.

    Remember the City Chart that has the citizens at the top of the pyramid … if you feel the ‘City’ is not handling this situation with the firefighters in an appropriate manner, let Mayor, Staff, and Council know your feelings.

    February 11, 2012
  74. Phil Poyner said:

    When I was in the military it was considered proper etiquette to invite the Wing Commander to unit functions, even though he was never expected to attend. In fact, having him there would have been a major buzz-kill. So, my question is: Is this one of those events that you invite the Mayor and the Council to, but you don’t actually expect them to attend? Is this something they’ve rarely attended in the past? Because if that’s the case, being embarrassed that they aren’t there now would be a bit inappropriate, don’t you think? Anyway, before we assign intent, maybe it would be better to find out if there was a reason they weren’t there.

    February 11, 2012
  75. Jane Moline said:

    Could be a new tradition, Phil, because in the past the mayor did attend.

    February 11, 2012
  76. Mary Rossing said:

    To all the Northfield Firefighters,
    My sincerest apologies for not being able to attend your annual event this past weekend. I was honored to be invited and would have been very happy to take the occasion to stop by as I have in past years during the social hour and thank you personally for your service to our community. However I took advantage of the rare 5th Tuesday that we had in January, and thus the break from weekly Council meetings, to schedule a trip to visit family out of town. It was certainly not my intention to offend you or your families in any way by my absence. I am very sorry if this was the case and hope that you will accept my apology.
    Mary Rossing
    Mayor of Northfield

    February 11, 2012
  77. Griff Wigley said:

    I drove by the Grand Event Center this morning and saw on the marquee that there’s a Fireman’s Dance there this Saturday, Feb. 18. Jerry Anderson mentioned nothing about it in his column in last week’s Nfld News in which he talked about the 52nd annual Firemen’s Banquet that was held on Feb. 4.

    I can’t find any promo info about the Fireman’s Dance. It’s not in the Feb. 18 listing of events in the Feb. Northfield Entertainment Guide. I looked on Facebook, Northfield.org, Northfield Patch, KYMN, and the Northfield News and don’t see anything. I don’t see any posters downtown, either. Am I just missing it?

    February 15, 2012
  78. Griff Wigley said:

    The annual Firemen’s Banquet (held back on Feb. 4) is evidently a private, organization-only affair, so the annual Fireman’s Dance (coming up on Feb. 18) is evidently a fundraiser.

    As of Sept. 10, 2010, the Northfield Fire Department became a department of the City under Public Safety Chief Mark Taylor. So while all NFD operational expenses are under the control of the City, the financials for the private annual Firemen’s Banquet and are still under the non-profit Northfield Fire Relief Association.

    Item G of Soldo’s report/recommendations in the June 28, 2011 Council work session packet (Pages 21-23) addresses the issue of FD finances.

    While all Northfield Fire Relief Association accounts are reportedly audited annually, it is unclear if funds are received and accounted for in accordance with Nonprofit Corporation accounting rules.

    Her recommendation:

    It is recommended that the City Finance Department formally audit FD checking accounts, savings accounts and accounting practices to ensure the proper receipt, expenditure of and accounting for all funds. Consultation with the office of the Legislative Auditor regarding FD accounting practices may be warranted.

    I’m trying to read between the lines. It sounds more than a little ominous.

    February 15, 2012
  79. Curt Benson said:

    Griff, will there be consequences and repercussions for those who dare not attend? Will non attendees be denounced in the press and on the radio, like those who had other plans the night of the Fireman’s Banquet? ….Just saying.

    February 15, 2012
  80. Jane Moline said:

    Cheap shot, Curt.

    I really think Mayor Mary just missed it due to her chance to see her family, and she has really been good in the past getting to these “meet and greet” appearances–but it was unfortunate this year when there has been perceived animosity between the city and fire fighters—so I see Chief Taylor’s absence as a real slap in the face to the firefighters. If any one of the 3 (mayor, administrator or Chief Safety Guy) had shown up it would not have been remarked upon–with all three missing it was a bit obvious.

    Please, everyone, attend the Fireman’s Ball–it is a fund raiser, so it really helps with expenses–and it is fun. Curt, I will, of course, give you no ending of crap if you don’t attend and support our fire department. (But you will be excused from the Bingo Tent at DJJD.)

    February 15, 2012
  81. Curt Benson said:

    Oh Jane, that wasn’t a cheap shot. The way I see it, our brave firefighters were so miffed when a few people failed to show up for their soiree that they had a surrogate denounce the non attendees in the newspaper, and had the Fire Chief’s paid mouthpiece denounce them on last night’s “Law Review”.

    And speaking of “cheap shots”, be sure to listen to last night’s “Law Review” after KYMN posts it to their site. Hvistendahl, who never says on his show that he is representing the Fire Chief, says this of the city council: “they must be on strong narcotics, or they’re just incompetent”. (I’m remembering the quote the best I can.)

    And–speaking of “consequences and repercussions” getting “no ending of crap” from Jane Moline is a pretty serious consequence and repercussion. (heh). See you Saturday…..

    February 15, 2012
  82. kiffi summa said:

    OK… let’s get off the “cheap shots argument” and back to the basics…
    ****As I see it the basic question is with the reorganization of the departmental structure; how can the city just ‘force-feed’ it to the firefighters and expect them to accept it?****

    . Does not a change in the departmental structure require a discussion with those who would now be operating under that structure?

    . Are there not issues of chain of command, finances, etc. that must be clarified if a new structure is to be put in place?

    . Why is it not in everyone’s best interest to sort these issues out rather than having a stalemate based on disagreement and disgruntlement ?

    There are more questions that could be asked , but frankly, I don’t see how it is ‘losing face’ to acquiesce to a meeting; the firefighters asked to meet , the ‘hierarchy’ said only within the “chain of command”…
    I hope the firefighters will now say that position is not acceptable to us, at this point, because we have not yet accepted that structure…

    Somebody has to make the first move towards the resolve…

    February 15, 2012
  83. Jane Moline said:

    Griiff: as a CPA I do not think that it sounds ominous at all. I think that the consultant is recommending that since the city will get the blame if there are problems with these non-profit accounts, the city should audit the accounts. It is actually a good thing for the non-profit as it won’t have to pay for the audit that it is getting now—this is a good idea for procedures.

    I am somewhat concerned by your suggestions and innuendos, and Curt, by your outright accusations that the firemen are mounting this huge attack on the city—I have not spoken with a single fireman–not a one, and they are not to blame for what others say–that is just unfair to claim that they should be punished or held accountable for others “perceived” insults to the city.

    As far as I can remember, no one has been able to stop Dave Hvistendahl from saying whatever he wants–maybe we should start a new thread just for that.

    February 15, 2012
  84. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, the change in structure/hierarchy has been a done deal since Sept. 10. I could be wrong but I don’t hear anyone asking to reverse that.

    The FFs just don’t like some items on Taylor’s Road Map and they want to ignore the chain of command as those items are worked on. For the Council, Taylor or Madigan to ignore the chain of command would be a disaster and I think you’d have a hard time finding many city managers, public safety directors or mayors who wouldn’t agree.

    February 16, 2012
  85. Griff Wigley said:

    Jane, can a citizen easily get a copy of the financials from the non-profit Northfield Fire Relief Association, including what was spent on the private annual Firemen’s Banquet?

    February 16, 2012
  86. Griff Wigley said:

    Alas, I won’t be there, Jane. I have an annual banquet for my motorcycle club. No joke, it’s true!

    February 16, 2012
  87. Griff Wigley said:

    Curt, is Jerry Anderson really the “Fire Chief’s paid mouthpiece” or was that just an off-handed remark?

    I think Jerry is a part-time paid administrator for Rural Fire, paid by the 4 townships.

    February 16, 2012
  88. Jane Moline said:

    Griff: Jerry Anderson is a retired firefighter and former mayor of the city of Northfield and I guarantee you that he is not paid by any of these parties—but I think you and Curt are doing a great job making up a great smear piece. I just wonder who is paying you.

    February 16, 2012
  89. Jane Moline said:

    Griff: My experience is that it is never easy to get the non profit financials for any non profit group–but I am sure the firefighters would give you anything you ask for. They are not keeping any secrets. I think you should quit inferring some wrongdoing- why do you have it for the fire fighters?

    February 16, 2012
  90. Jane Moline said:

    Griff and Kiffi:
    The problem that I see is that the city–administrator, mayor, staff, and POLICE CHIEF had an agenda to encourage a NEW combined fire/police hall for the city of Northfeild. To this end, they reorganized the departments to support their goal–and even though the fire department was not demanding administrative time or expense, decided to put it under the “SAFETY CHIEF” for administration. They did not do this because it was not working well or because of excessive costs or because of loss of personnel or because it would make city administration more efficient–

    They then cite reports that the way the current fire department is structuted is weird—they, after all, elect their boss! Iamgine that–a work group that picks the leader they want to follow and feel is the best qualified to do the job!

    Again, there has been no wrongdoing, poor workmanship, shoddy products, consumer complaints, or any other problem with the fire department–but it is weird! So, the city determines it must change to being less weird!

    Call in OSHA! (Whoops–more violations in city hall and the police deparment than in the fire department–but lets skip those little facts.) Make the fire deparment look bad! (Free help from Griff at Locally Grown–making up inferences, innuendo, hypothetical problems, etc.)

    Griff–look at the Wed Tribune South section about fire deparment problems when all these amateurs get in there and try to start running the deparment–

    The fire department has operated successfully and efficiently for years without a lot of interference from the city of Northfield. Please, Griff, explain why the city must do more administration (which means spending more tax dollars) to “manage” a department that is functioning so well independently?

    February 16, 2012
  91. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: the firefighters have been protesting since the beginning; they have not been doing it in a very public manner, and ‘they’ have been told they would be insubordinate if they did.

    Jane’s right; you be drinkin’ da Kool-Aid!

    February 16, 2012
  92. kiffi summa said:

    Jane : agree with you for 99% and most especially the last paragraph… and I still want to know how one can just assume that a new organizational structure will be imposed on a group which is not strictly under that control, i.e. basic salaried city employees.

    And this is what you ought to get , Griff, especially since you are a freelancer… I don’t imagine you would like a structure/chain of command imposed on you unless you agreed with it.

    February 16, 2012
  93. Phil Poyner said:

    Well, it looks like any constructive discussion has now run its course. Both sides appear well entrenched, with each accusing the other of malicious intent with absolutely no proof whatsoever! And a good time was had by all!

    February 16, 2012
  94. Curt Benson said:

    No, Griff, reread my comment #40. I didn’t write that Anderson is the fire chief’s paid mouthpiece. I was referring to the Law Review program of 2/14. Anderson wasn’t even on that show. I’m referring to Hvistendahl. I am bugged that Hvistendahl doesn’t say on his show that he is representing the Fire Chief. Does the fire chief approve of having his representative say the council is incompetent and possibly on strong drugs?


    February 16, 2012
  95. Griff Wigley said:

    Crap! You’re right, Curt… I was in a hurry and didn’t read your comment carefully. My bad. My apologies.

    But it does raise the issue in my mind about Anderson’s role. More on that to come.

    February 16, 2012
  96. Griff Wigley said:

    Phil, I don’t think I’ve accused anyone of malicious intent, have I? If so, please point to it.

    As for proof, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. I’m phoning people, talking to people F2F, spending many hours reading public documents, reporting back here as I go, trying to make sense of it all. What would rather see me doing?

    February 16, 2012
  97. Griff Wigley said:


    I’m hardly smoking much of anything with the really small glasses of Kool Aid. 😉

    I really came into this issue with no preconceived notions. I have a long history of being critical of City Hall on many things. And I’m on record as being against the current plan for a new Safety Center, which puts me squarely in opposition to both Mark Taylor and Mary Rossing, and in support of Jerry Anderson.

    I have zero experiences with the NFD other than playing a modest amount of bingo at DJJD; I only know a few of the firefighters and like them. I’ve never met Fire Chief Gerry Franek.

    So I think I’m in a pretty good position to work on this issue, my smoking and drinking not withstanding.

    Of course, none of that makes me immune to making mistakes or developing unfair biases as I work on this issue. Which is why I need you two and others to keep asking hard questions.

    February 16, 2012
  98. Griff Wigley said:

    If all the operational expenses of the NFD, including their hourly pay and pensions, are paid for by taxpayers via the City’s annual budget, what are some examples of what all the fundraising pays for?

    February 16, 2012
  99. Griff Wigley said:

    Jerry Anderson used to be a member of the Rural Northfield Fire Protection District Board of Directors but he’s now a part-time paid administrator. I don’t know when the change happened.

    I’m a bit perplexed that Jerry’s taken on a role as the volunteer PR/communications guy for the Firefighters, appearing on KYMN to plead their case, writing op-ed pieces on their behalf in the Nfld News, etc.

    I can understand that he feels a kinship with them since he was a firefighter for the NFD from 1969-89. But now that he’s an administrator, it seems that he should stop being a public booster for the FFs and instead, retreat to a more neutral position of objectivity.

    Of the many issues/areas of concern raised by consultant Soldo, it would seem to me that Jerry would agree with at least some of them and that as a Rural Fire administrator, he should have been pressuring Chief Franek to make changes because that would be in the best interest of the citizens he serves first. Instead, he’s acting like he serves the Firefighters first in these matters.

    I wonder if this is a concern of any of his board members or by any of the other elected officials of the townships and counties.

    FYI, there are actually 6 townships that are part of the Rural Northfield Fire Protection District (not 4 as I wrote earlier). They are: Bridgewater, Forest, Sciota, Waterford, Greenvale and Northfield. The cities of Dundas and Dennison are included as well. The District is governed by a board of directors which includes representatives from the townships and cities served.

    February 16, 2012
  100. Griff Wigley said:

    Is there a website for the Rural Northfield Fire Protection District? Who’s on the Board of Directors? Agendas and minutes? Annual reports?

    February 16, 2012
  101. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: with regard to comment #43, I certainly do not think you have any “malicious intent” ; I also do not count myself among any group that would fit “.. a good time was had by all”.
    But I do think you have been listening too much to the statements of the ‘hierarchy’ in this matter, and that is your privilege.

    What I do count myself as: is a person who is very much in support of our paid-on-call volunteer firefighters… and that accurate work description is the reason they are not salaried city hall employees who can just have their status changed without discussion in which their views on the matter are considered and valued.

    This whole current ‘kerfuffle’ arose from the Mayor refusing to meet with the firefighters ‘ensemble’, and wanting them to go through the “chain of command” … but it is not their accepted “chain of command”… and until that struggle is resolved, this will continue to fester.

    February 17, 2012
  102. Jane Moline said:

    I don’t think it is chain of command that is the problem. I think the firefighters don’t mind at all the chain of command, per se–I think they want to let the city council know how they feel about the changes that would have them reporting to a chief chosen by Taylor. It is understandable that they have misgivings since he has already shown a preference for someone that they did not chose.

    February 17, 2012
  103. Phil Poyner said:

    Griff, my bad if you got splattered with the big brush I was swinging around. However, that doesn’t take away from my opinion that we are often moving away from the facts and towards statements about the intent of both parties, city and firefighters, that mere speculation.

    What would I like to see you doing? When it comes to collecting data, I wish some folks that DO know what happened in the past would help you out. For example, did the re-org back in Sep 2010 come out of a purely home-grown idea, or was it driven by changes in emergency response organizations at the county and even national levels? I know that after Katrina in 05 FEMA had a huge wake-up call and emergency management was reorganized (with emergency operations centers often taking on a military-like structure) and common training developed. So, is the re-org actually a response to national doctrine rather than a “grab for power”? That’s what I suspect, but somebody out there knows for sure.

    This is purely y opinion, but to my eyes this whole discussion has so many moving parts, some of which I suspect we’re not privy to, that it’s difficult to air it all out in this sort of format with any hope of really a conclusion. This is the sort of thing that requires a sit-down conversation…otherwise it seems the same old topics will keep rearing their heads no matter how many times they are answered.

    February 17, 2012
  104. Griff Wigley said:

    Don McGee had this letter to the editor in last weekend’s Nfld News:

    Sharing firefighters’ frustration

    Your editorial of Jan. 28-29, 2012, regarding the “Fire Department Road Map” raises several questions.


    • Why has a simple request by a group of citizen-volunteers to meet with the City Council created such a furor?

    • When did our small town, citizen-based government become a system based on military protocol requiring “chain of command” rather that good manners and common sense?

    • How can the city initiate an issue about whether or not our firefighters are city employees and then unilaterally declare that they are employees and then declare that as such they can not participate in any discussions regarding any changes their employment status?

    • If the firefighters are declared to be employees, what is the City of Northfield’s financial liability for back pay for the hours that the firefighters have spent “off the clock” maintaining the fire station and equipment, performing public safety service, preparing for and following up on agency inspections and other related duties that the city will be obligated to pay?

    • How can the firefighters communicate with individual city councilors and the mayor as you suggest in your editorial when they have been reprimanded for insubordination and threatened with dismissal if they publicly express an opinion that is not in agreement with the “official” position?

    • Does the Constitutional right to the Freedom of Speech apply to employees of the City of Northfield or are we a “special place?”

    I share the firefighters frustration that a meeting cannot be arranged to address these questions in an open and civil discussion between the firefighters and the City Council in a public venue. Such a discussion is the only way to bring these issues to a conclusion that satisfies the needs of Northfield and the Fire Department.

    February 17, 2012
  105. Phil Poyner said:

    I wrote up a point-by-point response to this, but I’m going to think about whether I want to post it. Some battles feel like they’re worth fighting, and some just feel like you’re wrestling with a greased pig! 😉

    February 17, 2012
  106. Kathie Galotti said:


    I saw this letter too, and thought it was a good one. I share (I think) Phil’s view that there may be more going on here with the reorganization than has been brought out, but from what’s been presented, I still think there’s good reason for the City Council and mayor to meet–once–with the firefighters for a clear-the-air discussion.

    Like you, I have no particular dog in the fight. I spoke once with Chief Taylor–he handled my concern professionally. Chief Franek was a landlord to a former student–she spoke highly of him. I know Mary Rossing slightly and like her. I have no particular knowledge of the Fire dept, and no complaints. I understand that holding a meeting has drawbacks, but I think the benefits outweigh the costs.

    And I don’t see any malicious intents anywhere in this discussion.

    February 17, 2012
  107. Jane Moline said:

    I agree with Don McGee.

    This is a volunteer group–the fire call pay, training pay and pension are at a relatively low cost to what would need to be paid for a non-volunteer force–and a volunteer force needs to be handled differently then “regular” employees.

    I am still greatly irritated by Griff’s comment regarding the consultant’s “DUH” suggestion that the city should take over the auditing duties for the firefighters funds—but Griff called this “ominous.” What were you suggesting? Please call me directly, Griff, rather than put vicious speculation and hypotheticals in this thread.

    February 17, 2012
  108. Griff Wigley said:

    Here’s a copy of the 2010 audit for the Northfield Fire Department Relief Association that I got from the city of Northfield finance dept.

    February 17, 2012
  109. Griff Wigley said:

    The expenses on page 17 include no itemization of those amounts. $16K seems a huge amount to just lump into the miscellaneous category. And what category would expenses for the annual banquet be in?

    February 17, 2012
  110. Griff Wigley said:


    Soldo’s phrase, “Consultation with the office of the Legislative Auditor regarding FD accounting practices may be warranted” makes it sound to me like she thinks there may be possible misuse of public resources that needs to be checked out.

    I think my use of the word ‘ominous’ is warranted.

    February 17, 2012
  111. kiffi summa said:

    Jane: maybe i wasn’t clear; I think the firefighters like the chain of command that exists… but I think they do not like the proposed‘chain of command’ that the Mayor refers to as their needing to speak to… or through…

    February 17, 2012
  112. Jane Moline said:

    I think you are VERY WRONG Griff. The consultant would not HINT if she believed there was misuse of funds. She is simply identifying a source for the city to use if they need to see how other fire departments account for their funds. You should be apologizing for your inferences. (I think of this as “filler” for the report so that she can have a nice, beefy report covering all the basis. The same information would go in almost any report.)

    February 17, 2012
  113. Jane Moline said:

    It would certainly be nice to know why the Misc expenses were so high in 2009 compared to 2010. However, they had an audit by Abdo et al–and their only deficiency was, basically, that Abdo is doing all the work to prepare the financial statemesnts–something that happens when you have a small organization that does not employ a financial expert (as it would not be cost effective.) I think this is not ominous. I think if you want to audit the firemen you should do so but not on Locally Grown.

    February 17, 2012
  114. Patrick Enders said:

    Lookimg at the audit materials, it seems that the $16,000 in misc. expenses for 2009 exceeded the total fundraising for that year, which was just over $15,000.

    February 17, 2012
  115. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m hearing rumblings.

    The MN Dept of Public Safety has a 2010 document titled A Blueprint for Shared Services by the Governor’s Fire and Rescue Shared Services Task Force.

    On pages 28-30, the Isanti Fire District‘s story is profiled. Why do I mention this?

    It has some parallels to the current situation between the City of Northfield and the Rural Northfield Fire Protection District.  I’ve learned that the ongoing disagreements have some looking at a different way of doing things.


    Objective: Find a way to keep one department from splitting into two, or more.


    Athens Township
    Bradford Township
    Isanti Township
    Oxford Township
    Spencer Brook Township
    Standford Township
    City of Isanti


    Joint Powers agreement signed to pass district power over to a board of representatives, rather than full city control.

    Date Effective – January 1, 2006


    During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the local townships in Isanti County were growing increasingly frustrated by their lack of control and input into the department budget, which was maintained by the city. Several of the townships were threatening to pull out of the funding and begin their own departments. They formed an advisory board to consult and recommend changes that would allow the department to stay as one cohesive unit. Eventually the board began maintaining the department budget. By January of 2006, the participating groups created a formal joint powers agreement to make the exchange of control official.


    Townships in Isanti County and the City of Isanti were at odds. Townships were “fed up” and wanted to start their own department without city involvement. It became a case of one department trying not to be divided into two as fear grew that separation would create two or more deficient departments rather than one “good” one.

    Jan 1, 1989

    Advisory board formed to discuss recent developments (one member from each township and one from the City of Isanti). Reasons for townships seeking a different model/relationship with city of Isanti:

    • The city was over charging fees to the townships
    • The city looked at the total FD budget and charged them 20% across the board
      regardless of use
    • Obtaining accurate budget information from the city was “Challenging”: City claimed the JPA was out of funds while FD books showed otherwise; Upon challenging the numbers, the City issued a check for the missing amount back to the JPA board’s account.
    • Townships were buying equipment, but had no legal ownership despite paying the majority of the cost –The city owned the titles to the equipment
    • No fiscal input – The city would determine budget and later present it to the townships at the annual meeting

    Cooler heads prevailed, and on Jan 1, 2006 – The board entered a joint powers agreement to officially take control of the money

    Positive outcomes from JPA

    • Built substations to help shoulder load and cut expenses to support rural areas in a county covering 170 square miles
    • Second new substation coming in Spring, 2010
    • New substations raised safety ratings, and many nearby citizens saw insurance
      deductions of $400-1,000 each
    • District gained more control over their money and now have over $600,000 in cash
      assets (putting into the new substation)
    • Huge increase in morale – fire fighters feel less like a number and more like a valuable
      asset to the community
    • Increased overall equipment condition
    • Administration expenses went way down – only wrote 214 checks (not counting payroll)
    • Added full-time firefighter/administrator position

    Negative outcomes from JPA

    • Townships like to micro-manage
    • Everybody’s an “expert” and the meetings get off-task or bogged down in details
    • Slow moving process – with monthly meetings, the group must plan in advance to act on quickly moving grants
    • Quorum can be difficult – 5 special meetings called just to pay the bills because of noshows

    Unique Items

    The Isanti Fire District holds an annual rodeo to help raise funding for the district. Over the past 33 years, the rodeo event has raised $1.2M for the enhancement of fire protection in the Isanti area.

    Lessons Learned

    Isanti County’s population (40,000) seems to call for a full-time fire chief

    Fire departments too often try to be everything to everyone, but need to do a better job of cooperating and specializing

    City pushing for development of a self-taxing district

    February 21, 2012
  116. kiffi summa said:

    So what conclusions do you draw from the above, Griff? or what recommendations that are drawn from the above and are pertinent to the NF situation?

    February 21, 2012
  117. Griff Wigley said:

    I don’t have any conclusions yet, Kiffi. But these joint powers agreements are evidently tricky, as the Dept of Public Safety has several feasibilities studies posted on its website in the documents library, eg:

    Stillwater, Lake Elmo, Mahtomedi


    Evidently, some members of the Rural Northfield Fire Protection District don’t like the current arrangement of paying Northfield for services and buying equipment for Northfield to use.

    So one option would be to form a new joint powers agreement in which the City of Northfield is a member. I can’t see Northfield agreeing to that unless their representation was proportionate to their size.

    February 23, 2012
  118. kiffi summa said:

    I must be wrong… but I have never heard of our arrangement with Rural Fire referred to as a “Joint Powers agreement”.

    A clear example of a JPA is the Pearl Street/ Owatonna/911 emergency structure.

    I would think if there is a JPA in the Rural Fire structure , it would be between the Townships that are covered, and then the Rural Fire Assn. would have a direct contract with Northfield.

    Can you straighten me out on this, Griff?

    February 24, 2012
  119. Kiffi and Griff – there is not a joint powers agreement now. The rural fire association and Dundas have contracts for fire service with the city and other agreements about equipment.

    In thinking about how to move ahead on the safety center facility, the city needs to consider what “partners” means in legal terms. We could form a joint powers board for fire which would provide representation for Dundas, rural fire and Northfield and spell out responsibilities, cost sharing etc. Or, we could stick with the contract for services model and continue to try to determine how capital cost contributions will be made and equipment will be purchased and updated.

    February 24, 2012
  120. Griff Wigley said:

    On page 38 of the packet for next week’s February 28 Council meeting:

    To: Mayor and City Council

    From: Tim Madigan, City Administrator

    Subject: Fire Department Update

    Mark Taylor will do a short update on the Fire Department committee process and Mark, Mayor Rossing and I will give a short update on the Rural Fire Agreement.

    Attached is a report from Mark on the committees and a letter to the Rural Fire Association from the State Auditor’s Office requesting Rural Fire address certain financial management issues in their operations and update their agreement with the City.

    February 24, 2012
  121. Griff Wigley said:

    It looks like the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) has issued a bit of a spanking to Jerry Anderson. Excerpts from the letter to him (starting on P. 41 of the packet):

    This letter will provide the Fire District with recommendations to improve its internal controls over Fire District funds and to bring the Fire District into compliance with Minnesota law.

    More than one signature is required on checks issued by either Minnesota cities or towns… You informed us, however, that only one signature is currently required on Fire District checks…

    It is the OSA’s understanding that the Fire District has not been audited by an outside auditor, has not filed reporting forms with the OSA, and has not been included as a component unit in the financial reports ofone of the parties to the Agreement! The OSA recommends that the Fire District handle its funds in the same manner as Minnesota cities ‘and towns, to the extent practicable, as required by Minnesota law…

    Finally, we discussed the need to update the Fire District’ s agreement with the City of Northfield. The Reciprocal Fire Service Agreement from June 1983 does not appear to accurately reflect the current relationship between the City and the Fire District, as you have described that relationship to the OSA. In addition, the Agreement states that the Northfield Rural Fire Department is a non-profit corporation, rather than a joint powers entity. Updating the contract provisions will help clarify the responsibilities of both parties and may minimize later disputes.

    February 24, 2012
  122. kiffi summa said:

    Griff … the next question to be answered here is : who requested that the State Auditor’s office evaluate and then write a letter asking the Rural Fire to “address certain management issues”.

    The State Auditor’s office does not just go around looking for issues that need to be “addressed”; they respond to requests from local gov’t units who ask them for advice/help, etc.

    So… 1. what was the nature of the problem that the Auditor’s office was asked about,?
    2. who made the request to the Auditor’s office ? , and
    3. Is there a copy of the letter from the requesting ‘entity’ ?

    I hope some councilors will ask those questions, and also insist on seeing the letter sent to the Auditor’s office.
    It may be all in good faith toward restructuring the Fire Dept as the ‘City’ wants to do, or it may be a whole lot of ‘positioning’, of which there has already been an excess.

    There are either, IMO, an awful lot of unknowns here, or a lot of what I can find no better word for than ‘positioning’, which is meant to create perceptions, which then drive outcomes.

    On the surface we have been allowed to see, this is a rather monumental power struggle that is completely disproportionate to the framework of NF’s fire services, especially if as Jane Moline and others keep saying: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

    February 24, 2012
  123. Griff Wigley said:


    The Office of the State Auditor’s letter to Jerry Anderson starts out:

    Thank you for discussing with me the legal status of the Northfield Rural Fire Association. Specifically, you provided the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) with a copy of the March 8, 1994, Joint Powers Agreement Creating The Northfield Rural Fire Protection District (“Fire District’), and the June 1, 2003, Amendment to the Agreement. It is our understanding that the Northfield Rural Fire Association is another name for the joint powers entity created by the Joint Powers Agreement.

    and then ends with:

    In addition, the Agreement states that the Northfield Rural Fire Department is a non-profit corporation, rather than a joint powers entity. Updating the contract provisions will help clarify the responsibilities of both parties and may minimize later disputes.

    February 24, 2012
  124. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, I didn’t mean to imply that Northfield was currently part of any JPA, only that people were discussing the possibilities. The Rural Fire Assoc. is currently a JPA.

    February 24, 2012
  125. kiffi summa said:

    Griff; I was replying ( in 53.2) to your comment #53; #53.1 had not yet come up.

    So that answers some of my questions, i.e. the letter to the State Auditor’s Office was from Jerry Anderson to the SAO, and their reply was to him.

    That creates a whole different set of questions, but since you excerpted their reply , that needs to be read in its entirety.

    Have to do that tomorrow; too late to bother with the City’s website tonight…

    February 24, 2012
  126. Griff Wigley said:


    It seems that several (four?) Northfield City Administrators and the various Northfield Councils have been trying to update the agreement with the Rural Fire District for years, to no avail. I don’t understand why it hasn’t happened but I’m starting to wonder: might Jerry himself be the problem?

    But regardless, I don’t see how the City’s problems with Rural Fire relate to its effort to restructure the Fire Dept.

    February 24, 2012
  127. Griff Wigley said:

    Also in the 2010 audit:

    The gambling operations of the Association are not included in the financial statements. A separate report was issued under the regulatory basis of accounting and may be obtained by writing to the Northfield Fire Department Relief Association, 2418 Valley Dr, Northfield, MN 55057.

    That’s evidently the address of Jesse Faust, Secretary/Treasurer of the Fire Department.

    February 24, 2012
  128. That agreement, Griff, would be among the various townships creating the rural district; the city is not one of the powers.

    February 25, 2012
  129. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: Could you please explain the background for your first sentence in #53.3? I had been a LWV observer for at least 6 years and the RFD agreement was never a huge focus, although it did come up from time to time.

    The way the two departments are related is that much of the RFD equip is housed at the NF fire hall, and indeed, it is always said that their primary truck is the first one out on any call to the NF fire dept.

    February 25, 2012
  130. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, here’s one that goes back to 2009:

    The Northfield Ad Hoc Finance Group report in Nov. 2010, Exhibit 3, starting on page 10 of the (packet PDF). It includes copies of the memos from Joel Walinski to Jerry Anderson.

    Recommendation: The City should renegotiate the agreement with the Rural Fire Department.

    The Ad Hoc Finance Group has reviewed the work started by staff and supports the implementation of a new agreement based upon the League of Minnesota Cities document as a guideline and operational expense allocation as outlined in the 11-6-2009 memo Walinksi to Anderson.

    February 26, 2012
  131. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I think you are dealing with ‘wants’, not necessarily ‘imperatives’.

    2009 was already in the time of LGA cuts, and the ‘city’ was looking for $$$ (justifiably) in every possible corner.

    Whether or not the RFD agreement with NF has to be negotiated depends not on whether one party wants to, or even what the League of MN Cities recommends… but on the terms of the agreement as to how long it is in force.

    February 26, 2012
  132. kiffi summa said:

    The council work session tonight will be dealing with the problem of a new safety center…
    Several points of discussion have been framed by staff.

    People can watch this discussion live- streamed on KYMN.

    February 28, 2012
  133. Phil Poyner said:

    Thanks for the heads-up.

    February 28, 2012
  134. Griff Wigley said:

    Councilor Betsey Buckheit has a blog post about tonight’s meeting: Safety Center decision making. Note her thinking about Rural Fire and a JPA:

    The Council is scheduled to receive an update on our partners tonight. I’m eager for this update since the Council hasn’t had much information about the details of negotiations, so my more cynical self thinks it looks like Northfield tries to see how much we can get our not entirely enthusiastic customers to pay without giving them a great deal of input on what they’re buying. So far, contract talks seem stalled.

    A bolder alternative strategy would be to create a regional fire district governed by a joint powers agreement for services, facilities and equipment? It would certainly clarify the relationship, support Northfield’s interest in regional solutions, and perhaps build in a more sustainable structure where all parties have a strong stake in helping the fire district succeed.

    February 28, 2012
  135. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News: Auditor’s office wants changes to Northfield fire agreement, procedures

    The state auditor’s office is urging the Northfield Rural Fire Association to renegotiate its decades-old agreement with the city.

    But while revisions to the agreement have been discussed on and off for more than a decade, more recent conversations seem to be stalled over its term.

    Northfield Administrator Tim Madigan characterized the negotiations as fruitful, but association administrator Jerry Anderson said Monday that the association is unwilling to accept the five-year term the city has proposed.

    February 29, 2012
  136. kiffi summa said:

    There will be no clean resolve to this matter of the firefighters, and the RFD/NF agreement until there is a public meeting , with Councilors there to hear the complaints, or whatever, of both sides.

    Hearing one side of the story from one group, and contradictory views of what actually happened, and statements made, from the ‘opposing’ side, only puts the Councilors in a very weird position.

    To my way of thinking the Council must have a work session with the firefighters, and with the RFD, so there is no confusion about what either ‘side’ says.

    March 1, 2012
  137. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News: Northfield firefighters: paid or volunteers?

    The auditor’s report and other city documents, requested by the Northfield News, call into question the firefighters’ volunteer status, a claim some Fire Department leaders have made in recent months.

    Officials have used the firefighters’ purported standing as volunteers to ask for special treatment, including requests that they continue to elect their own boss, the fire chief, and meet with the City Council to discuss issues concerning a plan to implement changes at the Fire Department.

    The Nfld News included a Word doc at the bottom of the article with the text:

    See how compensation for Northfield firefighters stacks up against other local departments by clicking on the attachment at the bottom of this story.

    Since many people don’t have the ability to read Word docs, I’ve made a screenshot of the chart and included it below:

    March 6, 2012
  138. Griff Wigley said:

    In today’s Strib South: Northfield firefighters are facing a shake-up

    The Northfield Volunteer Fire Department is on the hot seat. City officials have abolished its outdated bylaws and plan to appoint its part-time chief instead of letting firefighters elect their leader.

    The City Council is seeking to reverse more than a century of volunteer firefighters electing one of their own as chief. Once elected, they tend to stay a while — the city has had three chiefs since 1960. Trying to modernize a department founded in 1872, the council wants to appoint a chief as it does with police and other department heads.

    “We got a recommendation from a consultant and the League of Minnesota Cities that it was not appropriate for members [firefighters] to elect a fire chief,” City Administrator Tim Madigan said.

    March 7, 2012
  139. Not to long ago the Local paper had a full page picture of our Firefighters and th combined years of service : Just keep it the way it is : This posssible new policy (by consultants) sounds like to much micro-managing : Like Ron Paul says sometimes to much government is aliitle to much in this case I agree : Leave it alone our Local Firefighters do a great Job : Keep it the way it is : Remeber Northfield has one of the Best Firefighter groups in the state : Thanks : that is my two cents worth

    March 7, 2012
  140. Jane Moline said:

    The Strib article highlighted the foolishness of the city–they have to have a more expensive appointed chief becaues the consultant said so–what has worked extremely well for many years is not good enough.

    I loved the comment by Mayor Mary Rossing that the terrible OSHA violation was NOT that the coffee pot had only a two prong (vs. three prong grounded) plug but that the firemen did not have a procedures manual in case of an emergency! Glad they are working on that–in case of an emergency I would really want the firemen to look up the proper procedure before the SAVE ME AND MY HOUSE!

    Hope the city Safety Director has a procedure manual in place in case of an emergency–like a flood that destroys businesses. Oh, yeah, I guess it was the firemen who were right there helping out and even evaluating some of our downtown buildings to help us decide if we needed to move things for the flood–too bad they didn’t have a procedure manual to tell them to warn people of the problems with underground electrical transformers–oh yeah, I guess they did that without any manual and worked to cordon off the areas that might become dangerous, including talking to the public and warning them of why there was a problem. But heck, good thing we have consulatants to let us know everything we have been doing wrong for A HUNDRED YEARS.

    Good thing we can put procedures in place that will cost us more, make our fire department less efficient, and destroy morale–way to go, government.

    March 7, 2012
  141. Phil Poyner said:

    I happen to agree with the Mayor; the SOP write-up was the one thing in the OSHA report that got an “uh oh” response out of me. I’ve yet to run across an organization with poor or non-existent SOPs that didn’t also have poor training plans. Having SOPs doesn’t mean you break them out like some sort of checklist; it means you institutionalize “the way we do things”. People can joke about this all they want, but I’ve run technical units in emergency and hazardous circumstances and it would have been considered irresponsible of me to NOT develop SOPs for all practical eventualities…and not just the ones that happen regularly.

    March 7, 2012
  142. Jane Moline said:

    Phil: SOPs are important–but their absence has not been a disaster for the fire department. SOPs are a way of documenting historical and institutional memory–and they are an exercise for planning–but it is the actual historical memory and experience that informs actions. Just because a large organization needs SOPs to help guide them does not mean that a small organization is deficient just because they are not there.

    March 7, 2012
  143. Phil Poyner said:

    Jane, the majority of my experience in writing SOPs has been with small units, and the need for them has more to do with the complexity and variation of tasks the unit is required to do than its size. Most people think firefighters put out fires, and maybe some rescue work, and that’s about it. But they are responsible for so much more than that. If there was a toxic spill, for example, the fire department is usually the lead agency in calculating dispersion zones in most emergency plans I’ve seen. There are dozens of other tasks, equally as complex as that one, that firefighters need to be able to accomplish even if they are not ones they commonly do. So, the lack of SOPs doesn’t cause me to worry about whether they can do the common; it makes me worry about how they will handle the uncommon. I’d say that both OSHA and the consultant saw this as a concern as well, or they wouldn’t have reported it. And again, if there is no documentation concerning how they do things now, then I am left to wonder about training plans for how they will do things in the future.

    March 7, 2012
  144. Jane McWilliams said:

    I’ve learned about how firefighters work from reading Michael Perry’s Population 485! Seems to me, putting out fires is both art and science. It requires training, trust and teamwork. Seems to me that a good SOP would assure those three elements. Probably this is true with the other responsibilities you mention as well, Phil.

    March 7, 2012
  145. Jane Moline said:

    Phil–I am all for SOPs. I am saying that this is not a sign of major problems in our fire department–and look how they have handled a number of “uncommom” emergencies–the SOPs are only going to help, but their absence does not make a major deficiency in the management or ability of the department.

    March 8, 2012
  146. Phil Poyner said:

    Jane, and all I’m saying is that in my experience a lack of SOPs and training documentation IS a sign of major managerial deficiencies, at least when is comes to units with an emergency response role. Of course, not being an expert at firefighting itself, I’d want to know what experts have to say about whether lessons based on my experience even applies to this particular unit. From the two reports we’ve seen posted in this thread it would appear that people with expertise in this field are saying the answer is “yes”.

    But all this does raise another question, at least in my mind. Is there some sort of state-level certification process for local fire departments? You know, some sort of inspection process that ensures that fire departments are properly integrated into the emergency management system, following the latest in state-of-the-science procedures, abiding by all local, state, and federal regulations…that sort of thing?

    March 8, 2012
  147. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News reporter Suzy Rook published a column last night: Going on offense

    Council members didn’t seem surprised Tuesday night when Mayor Mary Rossing announced that she’s heard rumors that the Northfield Rural Fire Department is looking to sever ties with the city.

    The city, it seems, it taking the rumors very seriously. The Public Safety Director even went so far as to get estimates on what the dissolution of the arrangement might cost the city. I’ve heard it was about $1 million.

    Last week, Rossing went on the offense, detailing for the council the last year of negotiations between city leaders and Rural Fire officials working to revise a 1970 agreement dictating firefighters’ pay and annual contributions.

    March 8, 2012
  148. Griff Wigley said:

    This is encouraging! According to Rook:

    Rural Fire Administrator Jerry Anderson last week told me that he had just gotten authorization to hire an attorney to help draw up a draft agreement


    March 8, 2012
  149. Phil Poyner said:

    Would I be correct in concluding that this comment thread is now discussing two entirely independent issues? One would be the contractual relationship between the city of Northfield and the Northfield Rural Fire Department, and the other would be managerial and organizational structure issues within the City of Northfield Fire Department? Or is there an actual connection between the two?

    March 8, 2012
  150. kiffi summa said:

    Yes, Phil, I think you would be correct if you thought there was a ” …connection between the two”…
    You see, if one has listened to all the meetings available to the public, and participated in some of the broader task force meetings regarding a new SC, then it is quite obvious that there has been non-agreement from the beginning on the reorganization of the Public Safety Dept, and some of that decision making has ‘blooped’ over on to the needs, both operational and structural, of not only the Police/Fire, but of the building(s) which will house them.

    It is also true that NF depends heavily on the RFD connection; their truck, housed in NF,is the first one out on calls.

    And that is why , IMO, this will not ever be settled to anything approximating satisfaction on both sides, until there is a public meeting between the Council, the Upper Management staff, the police and firemen; and things get sorted out in some very frank conversation where differing ‘facts’ can be challenged, and differing opinions respectfully discussed.

    The three firemen, including the asst. Chief, who came to the Council meeting last Monday and spoke, is a tiny beginning , but only that. It was said by a council member at that meeting that the Fire Chief, Gary Franek had “voted” for certain sites at the task force meetings; well maybe he did that under some other venue, but at the task force meetings I attended, there were not votes; there was the Mayor’s conclusion of “consensus”… and it was quite obvious sometimes that there was not consensus, but just non-expression of views, for whatever reason.

    There simply must be a big broad discussion between all the involved parties.

    March 8, 2012
  151. Griff Wigley said:

    Phil, I think you’ve identified the two issues correctly, though let’s refer to the rural entity as the Rural Northfield Fire Protection District to avoid confusion. Short version: Rural Fire District?

    I think the connection on the two issues in our discussions here has evolved in part because Jerry Anderson, admin for the Rural Fire District, has inserted himself in the organizational struggle between the Northfield Fire Relief Association (the Nfld firefighters) and the City of Northfield.

    March 8, 2012
  152. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I think your terminology re: jerry Anderson’s involvement is unfortunate… he is , after all, the administrator (exact title?) for the RFD, and there is extensive overlap in both personnel and the equipment between NF and the RFD.

    We (NF) depend heavily, very heavily, on their primary truck and their personnel.

    *** Ask this question: If the RFD decided that they would no longer participate in NF’s fire defense, but operate only in service to Dundas and the townships, what would the cost to NF be to provide the same protection that has been available through the collaboration?

    If that has been asked, I do not believe it has been answered…

    It may be that there are statutes that make NF somewhat responsible to provide some fire service for its non-municipal surrounds (the townships), and therefor it is imperative to work on an agreement that is satisfactory to all; I have no firm knowledge of the legalities or statutory requirements.

    March 8, 2012
  153. Griff Wigley said:

    My summary: the NFD has retained its overall Class Rank of 4 on the 10 point scale (0=perfect, 10=bad), so that’s good news.

    Of the 3 main components that make up the report (page 8):

    Receiving and handling alarms: 9.42 points of 10 possible

    Water supply: 36.28 points of a possible 40

    Fire department: 25.96 points of a possible 50.

    And of the 8 items that comprise the Fire Department scoring:

    Credit for company personnel (“the average number of existing firefighters and company officers available to respond to reported first alarm structure fires in the city”): 3.15 points of a possible 15

    Credit for training (“This item evaluates training facilities and aids and the use made of them by the fire suppression force; company training at fire stations; classes for officers; driver and operator training; new driver and operator training; hazardous materials training; recruit training; the pre-fire planning inspection program; and the training and inspection records. A maximum of 35% of the training evaluation is attributed to facilities, aids, and use, and 65% is attributed to specialized training including the pre-fire planning inspection program.”): 1.65 points of a possible 9

    March 8, 2012
  154. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m not sure how to make sense of such low scores for A) # of firefighters and B) training.

    March 8, 2012
  155. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, why should Jerry be the PR guy for the firefighters? He’s an administrator. And now with the ISO report out, I think he should be asking hard questions on why the training credit rating is so low. He can’t do that while being the firefighters’ booster/defender.

    March 8, 2012
  156. Phil Poyner said:

    I appreciate that, in peoples minds, these two issues may have become intertwined. But my question is:
    – If I resolved the NFD issues, either by change or by maintenance of the status quo, would it have any affect on the contractual agreement between the City of Northfield and the Rural Fire District?
    – If I resolved the issues surrounding negotiations between city leaders and Rural Fire District officials, would it have any affect on the questions surrounding the organization of the NFD?

    If the answer is “no”, then they should be solved separately…regardless of whether personnel from one entity expresses opinions about the other. My concern is that by merging the two problems people may conclude that solving one or the other may fix everything.

    As an aside, does anyone have a quicky answer regarding how the Rural Fire District and City Of Northfield Fire Department get funded? I take it they are different sources, at least in part?

    March 8, 2012
  157. Griff Wigley said:

    Phil, I think you’re correct, the two issues are really separate in terms of what needs to be done to solve them both. Thanks for helping to clarify that.

    As for funding, my understanding is that the people of Bridgewater, Forest, Sciota, Waterford, Greenvale, & Northfield townships plus the cities of Dundas and Dennison pay taxes to have a Rural Fire District.

    Likewise, Northfield taxpayers pay for the NFD (including salaries and pensions), but of course, the Rural Fire District contracts with the City of Nfld for its fire services so there’s ‘income’ there.

    Also in the mix: income from the Fire Association fundraising and gambling operations. It’s not clear to me yet what that money’s used for.

    March 8, 2012
  158. Phil Poyner said:

    Are there any federal or state level sources of funding, either steady-state or in the form of grants, for either organization?

    March 8, 2012
  159. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I don’t know that anyone commenting here has the knowledge to make sense of the scores and the informed interpretation of them; I know that I certainly don’t, and if you’ll excuse me saying so, I don’t think you do either.

    I think the most important thing is the continuance of the very good 4 rating, and the competence we see (Jane Moline gave a lot of examples) in the outcomes of response to fire alarms.

    March 8, 2012
  160. Griff Wigley said:

    Phil, does the ISO report provide what you were wondering re: “some sort of state-level certification process for local fire departments”?

    March 8, 2012
  161. Griff Wigley said:

    It appears to me that the one area of the ISO report that the Fire Chief and firefighters have direct control over is the training and its documentation. And if you look at pages 26-27 of the report, the scores are really bad:

    B. Company Training: .51 of 25 credits

    C. Classes for Officers: 0 of 15 credits

    D. Driver and Operator Training: 0 of 2 credits

    H. Pre-Fire Planning Inspections: .12 of 15 credits

    This seems to verify what both the OSHA and Soldo reports cited as important deficiencies. See pages 10-11 of the Soldo report in the packet.

    And Phil, it adds credence to what you wrote earlier in 61.3.1:

    all I’m saying is that in my experience a lack of SOPs and training documentation IS a sign of major managerial deficiencies, at least when is comes to units with an emergency response role.

    March 8, 2012
  162. Griff Wigley said:

    I just noticed this in last Friday’s Administrator’s Memo by Tim Madigan:

    As noted earlier, Mayor Rossing and I met on Monday with Dundas Mayor Switzer and City Administrator McCarthy to discuss the arrangement for Fire and sanitary sewer services between the two cities. I attended the Dundas Council meeting that night to listen to their ideas related to Fire Services.

    It’s a good sign that leaders from both cities are talking and listening. I wonder how it’s going.

    March 9, 2012
  163. Jane Moline said:

    That’s another thing that has been going on for years but you just noticed.

    March 9, 2012
  164. Phil Poyner said:

    Griff, not really…not that it wasn’t informative. The ISO report appears to be specifically written for the benefit of private insurers and those who pay premiums, and consequently doesn’t address many tasks fire-fighters find themselves doing under a number of other emergency scenarios. It still leaves me wondering if there are other inspections the Fire Department is routinely subjected to, or is the OSHA inspection supposed to be the “one” cities rely on to assess the health of their emergency management system.

    March 9, 2012
  165. kiffi summa said:

    Really, Griff… would you say the same about City Administrator, Tim Madigan?
    Isn’t he the City’s “booster/defender” ?

    March 9, 2012
  166. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News: Insurance rating maintained, but points to lack of training

    In the area of training, the department received less than 20 percent of the available credits… The ISO report gave the Fire Department 3.44 credits of a possible 65 total in the seven categories of specialized training. In three areas — classes for officers, driver and operator training and new driver and operator training — the department received no credit…

    Fire Chief Gerry Franek attributes the score to several factors including a lack of expensive equipment such as a drill tower and smoke room used for fire simulation training. Franek also says he was given an abbreviated time period — just a few weeks — in which to gather necessary documentation and because of that failed to submit documentation of training he has received. And, he said, there are limits to the amount of time in which part-time firefighters have available for training.

    For maximum credit, said ISO’s Massington, “the criteria is that firefighters train 20 hours per month. This is for full time or paid on-call.”

    March 10, 2012
  167. kiffi summa said:

    I simply do not understand why the newspaper just continually ‘stirs the pot’ on the ‘side’ of City Hall, and against the firefighters…

    Have they ever interviewed the Fire Chief or a group of the fighters and gotten their side of the story?

    The newspaper always takes the position, in the end , that there is nothing that citizens might question in the workings of City Hall; is it just the $$ they get by being named the official newspaper of the city, printing the public notices, etc?

    Time after time the same old tired attitudes prevail over at the newspaper; there is no investigative work ever done on anything but a human interest issue.

    I should think the performance of our firefighters shows that they have put the training they have to achieving very good outcomes; lets have some editorial analysis rather than just a rehash of the PR report from City Hall.

    March 10, 2012
  168. Jane Moline said:

    I agree, Kiffi. Of course, if we spent $550,000 on a training facility like they have in the cities, and spent at least another $100,000 annually on an administrator who documents the training and keeps track of the paperwork, we could have a really great fire deparment that does the same as it does now except Griff, the Northfield News, and the mayor would not have anything to criticize.

    We get what we pay for, and it has been a great fire department with great fire protection and response. We don’t get such great documentation and we are not willing to pay for large amounts of training expenses–so we don’t have such great paperwork to show in that area. What is really important here?

    March 11, 2012
  169. john george said:

    Griff- This may be a dumb question, but if training is as important as the table of figures would seem to indicate, how is having two separate areas for storage of trucks and equipment and another for training going to improve the scores? Doesn’t training involve the use of the equipment? Will the firefighters have two sets of equipment, one for training and one for use? Maybe I missed something in the earlier discussion, so I’m open for enlightenment.

    March 12, 2012
  170. Griff Wigley said:

    Jane, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the NFD spend large amounts of money on a training facility. If so, can you point to it?

    And Chief Franek agreed with Soldo on what needed to be changed. See p. 13 of the packet:

    10 b. Summary of Consultant Soldo’s Recommendation(s):

    * It is recommended that the Fire Chief, in consultation with the PSD, City Administrator and HSRI Director: 1) establish minimum training requirements all FFs, probationary and non-probationary, must complete prior to their active participation in fire calls; 2) Develop and implement an annual training schedule providing for skills training in all critical skill areas; and, 3) Establish a training protocol and SOP.

    c. Summary of Fire Chief Franek’s and PSD Taylor’s Recommendation(s):

    * Fire Chief Franek and PSD Taylor agreed with Consultant Soldo’s recommendations

    March 13, 2012
  171. kiffi summa said:

    Once again, the NFNews has come out with an editorial which is so offensive, IMO, in not being able to parse out the specificity of a paid on-call volunteer fire department, instead exacerbating the strife of this struggle.

    Their first sentence says: “Northfield firefighters can call themselves whatever they’d like, but to the rest of us, they’re certainly not volunteers”.

    To the rest of who?

    I think it’s clear from many comments on this site that the general public does consider them to be ‘volunteers’, in as much as they are not salaried employees of the city, and do not fulfill the definition of other contracted employees, consultants, etc.
    They perform a specific service, when they are called to act, and are paid accordingly.

    Because the NFNews is the specified newspaper of record for the city, printing their public notices, etc, and is paid for doing so, would they consider themselves an “employee” of the city?
    Of course not… they are hired and paid to perform a specific service.

    March 14, 2012
  172. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News editorial today: Firefighters should not be considered volunteers

    Northfield firefighters can call themselves whatever they’d like, but to the rest of us, they’re certainly not volunteers… they are handsomely rewarded for longevity with a lump sum pension payment that, depending on the number of years they’ve put in, can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and which ranks among the highest in this part of the state.

    That’s not money taken from their paychecks, it’s money contributed to a fund on their behalf , and to which they have access after becoming vested. Make no mistake, we’re not arguing firefighters don’t earn that money. We’re quite certain they do, every penny.

    But that’s also exactly why they’re not volunteers and shouldn’t be considered as such. And that means whatever internal city rules apply to other departments should also apply to them.

    March 14, 2012
  173. Phil Poyner said:

    This tack is a huge mistake, in my opinion. In fact, this kind of argument is another step in personalizing an issue that is fundamentally organizational. If there was one thing both sides of this issue could agree on in the past, it was that nothing under discussion should bring the dedication and courage of the NFD into question. These people are, by MN law (A “volunteer firefighter” means a person who is charged with the prevention or suppression of fires within the boundaries of the state on a volunteer, part-time or paid, on-call basis. 299N.03 Subd. 7.) and by common understanding of the term, volunteer firefighters. Questioning that volunteer status is disrespectful, gives the appearance of questioning the firefighter’s ethics (How dare you call yourselves volunteers!), and ignores the statutes. As I’ve mentioned in previous comments (31.1.1), a firefighter can be considered both a volunteer AND a city employee, so the idea that they are “either/or” appears to lack legal support…and I have yet to hear ANY of the town’s many lawyers say that I miss-interpreted those statutes!

    So, great…here we sit. The NN is flinging mud from one side, the fire chief and his lawyer are flinging it from the other, and this entire conversation now has all the ingredients to spin away from the initial issue at the speed of any other rumor! I predict that the NN will end up looking bad, the chief is already starting to look bad, the Mayor and the City Council (and staff) will have one more reason to look bad, and in the end this issue will be resolved one way or the other with no help from the “court of public opinion”. This is rapidly moving away from problem-solving to a trading of insults.

    March 14, 2012
  174. Jane Moline said:

    I cannot believe this meaningless, devisive opinon and do not understand why there is such an attack against what is an efficient, cost-effective fire department. I will call them volunteers since they have to apply, go through training and go to many meetings and training where they are not paid. NN also seemed to call into quesitons whether or not the emplyer’s of these volunteers paid them when they go on call changes anything—in other words, are we to be upset that MOM generously supports the fire department by NOT docking firefighters for their shift pay when they are called away from work for a fire (or rescue squad)? What we should be doing to thanking these employers for making it easier for our firefighters to belong to the department.

    It was also misleading and just downright wrong for the NN to put in a headline that the Northfield firfighters wages and pensions are among the highest in the state–it does not make the connection that the high pensions are a result from years and years of dedicated service and willingness to be available at any moment. If we had high turnover we would still have the same pension expense but earned by a bunch of inexperienced, ineffective firefighters.

    Better to do an analysis to see what it costs us per capita to have our fire deparment (and include the rural district population, as they pay their fair share) and compare that with what is available around the state–because the alternative is that we pay a lot more for a less efficient department. Perhaps that is what the Northfield News is working for.

    And Phil, I would disagree with your analysis that it is the NN against Hvisty and the fire chief–I would say there is “pile-on” from the mayor, city adminstrator, Chief Taylor, Northfield News and Griff Wigley against an unsophisticated group who are belately and ineffectively responding to being steam-rolled.

    March 14, 2012
  175. kiffi summa said:

    Well… so it’s not just crabby Kiffi who thinks the NFNews is out of line with their repeated attacks on the firedept. , attacks which ignore the big picture facts to the point of being misrepresentation.

    What is the motivation of the NFNews? It is obviously not to bring a factual analysis to their readers.
    By continually presenting the portion of the information that supports their inexplicable positioning, they not only misinform, but cause real mischief.

    The bottom line is the really good rating that our firefighters have achieved in the past , and continue to hold today… and the measure of comfort, and actual monetary savings on insurance costs, that #4 ISO rating provides.

    March 14, 2012
  176. kiffi summa said:

    OOps! forgot to thank Phil… Thank you Phil … for the statute defining ‘volunteer’ firefighters, which include paid on-call respondents as volunteers.

    I wish someone would just fess up as to the motivations behind all this positioning by the City, and the newspaper…

    Is it just as simple as “We created a department named Public Safety, with a Director of Public Safety, Police Chief Taylor, and now we can’t go back and admit maybe that was not the wisest structure to pursue” ???

    March 14, 2012
  177. Aramis Wells said:

    I just wanted to speak a little peace. It has gotten to the point that if I don’t let some of this out I can no longer sleep at night. Every day we go about our buisness and we enjoy what we do and that is the reason we do it. However in the last year it has become so frustrating to go about our buisness. Daily we read the paper, listen to KYMN, and read the posts on here. It is very obvious someone has an agenda to shoot us down and I still don’t know what we did wrong. I do not know what kind of bullseye I just placed on myself for speaking out but I needed to thank Jane and Kiffi for their kind comments. You two have given our department a ray of hope knowing that there are citizens on our side who will fight to keep us.

    Concerned and unable to sleep,
    Aramis Wells
    Northfield Fire & Rescue

    March 15, 2012
  178. Griff Wigley said:

    Aramis, good to have you chiming in. I don’t think you have to worry about having a bullseye on your back here. I may want to argue with you but I will treat you respectfully and as moderator, will do my best to make sure others do, too.

    And congrats for being selected as the 2012 Northfield Firefighter of the Year.

    In case others don’t know, see this Feb. 14 Nfld News article: Firefighter of the Year says award was worth the wait.

    March 15, 2012
  179. Aramis Wells said:

    Thanks Griff for the warm welcome and the congrats. I was really hoping my 15 minutes would have been up by now but that darned award is following me everywhere 🙂 I was really suprised it came my way this year and Suzy gave a great write up. I would just like to say it is becoming more and more difficult to enjoy being a firefighter. What is most concering to me is that there are 30 great guys on this department with many things to offer and we haven’t been included in the discussion. In the last year we have had a lot to say but it doesn’t reach the council. So much for “chain of command” or at least that’s the mayor’s story.

    March 15, 2012
  180. Jane Moline said:

    Aramis–there are THOUSANDS in Northfield who appreciate what you and all the fire and rescue do —we are so grateful–but most are shy and silent–do not think because of the city’s rant and Griff’s bullying that there is any kind of huge group against you—there is a small group (of mostly ignorant, IMO) critics.

    Because of my more than 30 years living in this area, I have had the fire department come to the rescue of one of my buildings and have witnessed too many terrible accident scenes where the rescue squad had to deal with terrible situations, many including their family and friends–thank you for everything.

    March 15, 2012
  181. Bruce Morlan said:

    And the people in the townships are similarly supportive. We believe the current kerfuffle is an unnecessary exercise that will, in the end, be put to rest as the full story is presented.

    March 15, 2012
  182. Phil Poyner said:

    I’d like to second Griff’s welcome and congratulations. It will be nice to hear the viewpoints of someone that’s actually “down in the trenches”, and an expert in the field. Maybe this could be a forum where those of you with “a lot to say” get heard, and misconceptions (including some of my own) might be cleared up.

    March 16, 2012
  183. kiffi summa said:

    Bruce’s characterization (#75) as “the current kerfuffle is an unnecessary exercise” is correct; however that is one of the aspects of this whole year or more of strife that really gets my goat…

    I’ll ask this once again: What is the possible reason for all this struggle of power, who’s in charge, etc.etc.etc…unless it is just that.. a senselessly destructive power game.
    I am sick to death of political power games…

    I keep thinking of the city’s organizational chart which above the department heads shows the City Administrator, and above that position the Council, and above the Council, the Citizens… yes, right up there at the top of the pile.

    But that isn’t the way it works out … the Council will listen to their senior staff before they listen to their citizens for the most part, and they are loathe to admit they have made mistakes.
    They are human; they are allowed mistakes, as is the staff allowed mistakes. It is the relentless ignoring of citizen comments, both in e-mail, at the open mic, and in person that riles.

    A lot of the problems the Council has to deal with are fraught with complicated issues that can’t all be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. I get that; after years of dong Council observing for the LWV, I certainly get that.
    But it is the lack of dealing with the personal side of these complicated issues that gets to me, they are afraid of being accused of ‘micro-managing’…a SIN it seems, in the world of local elected officials, and their administrators.

    But this town is one that micro-manages, and likes to talk about how it’s being done, even though most people prefer to talk in a less public venue than this one.

    People have been talking disparagingly about the Council and the senior staff on this issue of the firefighters for a year. Maybe it’s the company I keep, but I have never in the 17 years I’ve lived here, heard a single disparaging word about the fire department.

    ****Why can’t our Council just say : “Enough… we want the firefighters to come to a work session and talk with us; we want to have a good relationship with them and that is more important than a possible error we made in the restructuring of the Public Safety Dept. We want to end this one sided standoff… to Heck with the supposed “chain of command” … we don’t want this sorry sour situation to continue …Please come and talk to us… and soon. This is the most important thing to resolve.”

    Come on, Council .. you can do it, and even though it is far overdue, it would be appreciated.

    March 16, 2012
  184. Curt Benson said:

    Mayor Rossing and Administrator Madigan cited the opinions of the League of Minnesota Cities as their motivation from changing the process of selecting a Fire Chief from an election of members, to a selection by city officials. The link below from the League of Cities contains several documents regarding volunteer fire departments. The “Selection vs Election” is the most relevant. (I wish I had the skills to cut and paste here, but I can’t figure out how to do it from the way these documents are formated.)


    Since the League’s recommendations are so strong, I’m wondering if other Minnesota cities who have the same volunteer fire department traditions as Northfield’s are following the recommendations of the League. Have controversies erupted elsewhere? What, if any, are the consequences for not following the Leagues suggestions?

    I think that the idea the idea that the Mayor, Administrator and Director of Public Safety are on some kind of vendetta, based on grabbing power is unfair (plus creepily conspiratorial). I think that fair minded people should at least read the League’s opinions before condemning these public servants.

    I usually tend to lean towards the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. It does seem like we’re getting good fire/rescue services at a bargain price. But I also realize it’s not 1910 anymore, and a more professional approach to managing this very odd, hybrid volunteer/part time on call employee department may be inevitable.

    March 16, 2012
  185. Phil Poyner said:

    Curt, thanks for the reminder that I should strive to be a better writer! I mean that in a good way; your words express many of the things I’ve thought about, but I’d have struggled to put it so eloquently.

    March 16, 2012
  186. Kathie Galotti said:

    Curt and Kiffi,

    I say yes to both of your most recent posts. Yes, Curt, there may be good reason to go to a selection rather than an election model. Many of you (Griff, Phil, others) have made good arguments in this respect.

    But, even if they do, that does not explain why, just once, the firefighters can’t meet to have ONE conversation with the City Council. Why the folks involved in making the decision can’t sit, face to face, with the folks most directly affected by the decision and TALK. However the decision comes out. What possible harm could that do?

    March 16, 2012
  187. Jane Moline said:

    I do not believe that just because the League says so makes it the best–their arguments assume that a “popularity” vote means that the firefighters are not cosidering qualifications in their votes when choosing their leader–I think this is a pretty arrogant and self-serviing conclusion–I believe our firefighters have consistently chosen the best qualified candidate with their votes.

    The League article also claims that that choosing by vote may lead to a contentious political process where those running win on the basis of their “personalities” and cites an example where that problem led to a fire department becoming inefficient. That did not happen in Northfeild–just because it was dysfunctional somewhere else does not make it so in Northfield. (Although there is a lot of dysfunction in Northfield to go around, I do not think we should be trying to spread it to where it isn’t–the fire department.)

    I believe the entire problem could be rectified by simply limiting the chief to qualified candidates (which the firefighters have done in the past) and making sure that those qualifications are part of the election process–for example, all qualified candidates could be REQUIRED to run for chief and multiple ballots could be used to narrow down the field until one is ultimately chosen. Sometimes the most qualified candidate does not want to be chief becuase he cannot devote the time to the position–and that is important, as well.

    All in all, I do not subscribe to dumping out everything that has been done in the past just because the League recommends it—that is a direct line to disorganized, unhappy, dissatisfied firefighters and ultimately unhappy taxpayers.

    March 16, 2012
  188. kiffi summa said:

    And let’s also remember that the L of MN Cities is a member organization so is likely to take an advocacy position; members are obviously cities who pay a yearly fee.
    It’s in the disbursements somewhere…

    March 16, 2012
  189. Jane Moline said:

    I really think that anyone with any experience with the League knows that they are not batting 100%. Their “proactive” advice is spent on simple, easy to recommend changes like “don’t let your volunteers pick their chief” and fails to provide guidance on substative issues like good rental ordinances or smart assessment processes that are fair and preserve neighborhoods or good ways to legally discourage unwanted businesses like strip clubs.

    March 17, 2012
  190. kiffi summa said:

    At last night’s council meeting, the reaction to the Ad Hoc Finance Study Group recommendation that the ownership (city’s) model of the NF Hospital be studied… if that brings our pleasant , soft spoken, solid background-ed Hospital Administrator, Mark Henke, to say at the micm that the process could be compared to the unpleasantness of a “digital rectal exam” (reiterated several times) … and the result being that the motion was tabled to be discussed between Hospital Board, Administration and Council at a Joint Work Session … then I think the firefighters should politely tell the Council that the process they have been going through with the City’s proposed reorganization of the Public Safety department could be compared to a rectal exam with a fire hose … and they would appreciate the same response/offer of a Joint Work session discussion, something they have asked for repeatedly.

    March 21, 2012
  191. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, thanks for, um, inserting this hospital issue into the discussion. I’ve got a new blog post up on it here.

    If 30 or 50 or 100 hospital employees wanted to meet with the Council to air their grievances directly, I’d say it would be a bad idea, too.

    March 22, 2012
  192. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I was feeling somewhat guilty about the grossness of my language in #81, even it was a ‘furtherance’ of the original comment made, but given your verb choice, in your first sentence, I have gotten over that!

    Yes… saw the new blog post, had already commented… and I like bringing in the role of the LWV.

    March 22, 2012
  193. Griff Wigley said:

    Wed. Nfld News: Firefighters’ pensions best in state; funding not as strong, says report

    A new report by the state auditor’s office finds that Northfield firefighters continue to have one of the highest pension benefits in the state. Shakopee firefighters also receive $7,500 benefit…

    Firefighters don’t contribute to the fund. Funding comes from the city, state, a $5,800 contribution from the Northfield Rural Fire Association and investment earnings. Northfield, in 2010, contributed $98,000 to the pension fund, according to the report. Divided by 32 firefighters, that’s $3,062 apiece.

    The fund received another $95,313 in state aid. Both were among the highest in the state, putting the city in the 98th and 97th percentile, respectively. The average municipal contribution among lump-sum plans was $18,116, the auditor’s office found.

    March 27, 2012
  194. Aramis Wells said:

    Maybe I’m wrong in thinking this but I think the thread title needs to be changed to “What’s up with the Northfield NEWS”. Just my two cents.

    March 28, 2012
  195. Griff Wigley said:

    Aramis, I’ve been critical of the Northfield News on this issue. But I think the discussion here on Logro as well as their articles collectively indicate that there’s been a need for much greater community awareness of the contentious issues.

    And I think the Northfield Fire Relief Association and the Rural Northfield Fire Protection District now need to be much more transparent about all aspects of their operations going forward. A good start would be for each to have their own blog sites.

    April 5, 2012

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