How the Fairmont Fire Department selects its leadership and who ultimately has control over the department came under discussion at the Fairmont City Council meeting Monday. Citing a memo from League of Minnesota Cities, which provides liability coverage for the city, Councilman Tom Hawkins requested a change in City Code to comply with the League’s recommendation to avoid potential lawsuits. Two points were at issue: change control of the fire department to the city administrator, instead of the City Council as stated in current code, and change the selection of fire department officers from the long-standing practice of being elected by members to being hired according to the city’s employee hiring process.

Hawkins explained he was made aware of the League’s memo in 2018 and brought it to the attention of then-City Administrator Mike Humpal and Mayor Debbie Foster. He thought the plan was for staff to hire the fire chief and assistant chief and then have the chief hire the remaining three fire department officers.

He acknowledged that he sparked a backlash from the department by the feedback he received over the weekend and by the number of firefighters that filled council chambers for the meeting. It is not a state statute. It is not law that we do this. It is a recommendation by the League of Minnesota Cities on liability insurance,” Foster said. “With that being said, we have the deepest respect for the League of Minnesota Cities because they are watching out for cities. They are watching out for our fire department. They have the best interest of everyone in mind.”

Brandon Scott, Fairmont fire chief, weighed in on the department’s practice of electing officers versus the proposed method of hiring them as city employees.

“We’re different than other city departments,” Scott said. “We have other jobs. We’re not full-time employees. We leave our jobs. We leave our families when we are called upon. It’s not like the street department or the police department when they are on duty.”

He said the process Humpal and the human resources professional had proposed was being surveyed and discussed by the department.

Mark Sievert, interim city administrator, said he had consulted with the League of Minnesota Cities on Monday. Sievert said he will meet with the fire chief and legal counsel on what the fire department can or should do to limit the liability exposure that might occur because of the officer election process and report any progress to the council.

The Fairmont City Council heard the investment report for Dec. 31,2019 at last night’s meeting. City Finance Director Paul Hoye stated total interest received during the period was $598,004 dollars. The council also voted to direct staff to receive bids on hosting the city’s website.

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