Well according to the Sun Post there may be a little break in the pissing contest between Crystal and New Hope over the West Metro Fire Department;
The family is admittedly dysfunctional, but talk of divorce is being postponed for now. That was the consensus at the end of a three-hour joint work session of the Crystal and New Hope city councils Nov. 30 at the Crystal Community Center.
The session, facilitated by Chad Weinstein, president of Ethical Leaders in Action, was devoted to discussion of what led to Crystal’s Nov. 15 issuing of a letter of intent to dissolve the West Metro Fire-Rescue District. The two cities have shared a fire service since merging their respective fire departments in 1998. In recent years, the West Metro Fire-Rescue District board of directors – and subsequently the two city councils — have weathered several contentious discussions regarding funding and budget allocations for the shared service.
An audience of about 60 residents and firefighters filled the room, but did not speak at last week’s work session. West Metro Fire Chief Scott Crandall and Deputy Chief Sarah Larson chose not to attend the meeting. Weinstein asked each of the 12 council members to first give his or her assessment of how the disconnect and contentious issues have come to be. Then each was asked whether they would support taking steps to maintain or re-establish the district, as opposed to moving forward with plans for dissolution.
The city councils were asked to caucus separately following that, and then return to report their respective decisions. Each of the councils pledged to pass identical resolutions agreeing to continue the joint fire department for some or all of 2012, while working to resolve existing issues and problems to satisfy both councils. Weinstein also suggested that public input should be solicited as one of the next steps in the process.
Public input? You can’t get public input in Crystal unless a decision is made first. That’s how they do it!
The agreement was not without differing opinions, however. New Hope City Councilmember Dan Stauner, who is an attorney, argued that the West Metro Fire-Rescue District’s bylaws state that when one city expresses intent to withdraw from the joint powers agreement, it is mandatory for the dissolution to be under way. “As of Dec. 31, 2012, West Metro doesn’t exist anymore,” Stauner said. “We don’t have the luxury of acting otherwise. We have to start spending money almost immediately to put in place a fire service for the city of New Hope. If we’re going to step back, we need to do it quickly.”
But Crystal City Attorney Mike Norton, who also is the attorney for West Metro Fire-Rescue District, presented a different opinion in written materials to the West Metro Fire Board. “The notice itself is just that, a notice of intent, but not a final decision to withdraw,” Norton’s memo said.
Nothing like a battle between lawyers!
Issues cited by council members as problematic included board polarization, management, red flags in the audit, willingness to compromise, handling of operations and the budget, level of service, emergency medical services, funding strategies, disagreement about policies and operational and budget issues.
“I’m terribly worried about the future,” said Crystal Councilmember Mark Hoffmann, who detailed the city’s continuing loss of Local Government Aid. “Crystal is just not going to go forward in the future as we have in the past. Stauner agreed that there are some “very legitimate concerns.” “Crystal has a lack of confidence in [fire] district leadership, and that has been a major problem,” Stauner said. “It seems to be the underlying driving force.
“I’m not that thrilled with the district leadership either, but we need to have confidence in the people who are leading our district. I’m hearing that Crystal didn’t get what it wanted [in the budget], so we didn’t compromise enough.” Crystal Councilmember Joe Selton said further frustration stems from uncertainty about whether West Metro is considered an entity by itself or one of a series of city departments. “If one party is grieved, both parties are grieved,” said Selton, who called for more accountability.
More accountability!! You hear that from every public official, but they never seem to get around to doing it!
Disagreement about the budget philosophy for the joint fire department has led to ongoing issues, according to New Hope City Councilmember Eric Lammle. A former New Hope cop who now is a police officer in Richfield, Lammle said, “We’re certainly not going to be able to justify to our taxpayers the cost of going it alone. We need to reestablish the [fire] district in a way both councils can agree on.”
Crystal Councilmember Julie Deshler said her city doesn’t believe New Hope is taking Crystal’s situation seriously. “Please let us work together and solve our problems,” Deshler said. “I can’t believe it would be in our best interests to dissolve this.”
Crystal Mayor ReNae Bowman argued that her city has been trying to create a dialogue with New Hope for two years. “It shouldn’t take this much time and energy,” Bowman said. “There are some broken links in the chain. The core of the problem is lack of confidence in the leadership. The ultimate frustration is that leadership should be able to justify a budget. They do it everywhere else.”
She said tough questions need to be asked, including considering the cost of EMS. “How much are we willing to spend? Is there a different way to fund it?” Bowman said.
So is this really about the budget or is it a personal problem with the fire leadership and the Crystal City Council?
But New Hope Mayor Kathi Hemken said she has “a lot of confidence in our fire chief. “He has the interest of his people and the two cities at heart,” Hemken said. “He may not be the greatest communicator, but he has been very open. To dissolve this partnership is absolutely wrong. We need to do everything in our power to make it work.”
According to New Hope City Councilmember John Elder, the conflicts between the two cities and individual council members have gone “from professional issues to personal.”
Ah, so that’s the problem, and knowing the Crystal City Council, why is that a surprise to you Mr. Elder?
Elder, a former New Hope cop who now works for the Minneapolis Police Department, said West Metro’s service is life-saving. “We have to take care of our citizens, period,” Elder said. “I think EMS is immensely important. Basic life support isn’t a luxury.”
Fire service for each of the two cities would be much more costly if the dissolution occurs, according to Crystal City Councilmember David Anderson. “I’m not sure citizens would be willing to pay for that.” Anderson said. “I will not allocate money they cannot justify.”
Citizens don’t want to pay for special assessments either, Mr. Anderson, but do you ever listen to them?
Council members agreed they would approve the identical resolutions as soon as possible and then each compile a list of issues and problems that need to be resolved during the next year. The West Metro Fire-Rescue District, employs a total of 58 paid on-call firefighters who work out of two Crystal stations and one in New Hope. A six-member office staff is based at the fire station in New Hope.
The current cost-sharing formula, based on each municipality’s average calls over five years, its population and taxable market value, stipulates that Crystal supplies 50.3279 percent of the total budget ($82,310 monthly), and New Hope pays 49.6721 percent ($81,238 monthly). A seven-member board of directors oversees the district’s operation and meets quarterly. The board is comprised of the city manager and one council member from each city, plus a citizen representative from each city and one at-large non-resident member.
And, remember Mayor Bowman serves as Crystal’ “citizen representative” but that’s no conflict of interest. She has to have her hands in everything!