By Charlene Sims, email@example.com
Update: After publishing the original story about the Linn County Commission's plan to disband the county's fire board, members of that board responded to that plan.
MOUND CITY – The Linn County Commission is expected to approve a resolution that dissolves the county’s fire board at its next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 16.
However, at least one member of that board said that the Randy Hegwald, who serves as county fire chief and director of emergency management, has driven away many experienced firefighters and should be relieved of his duties.
At their weekly meeting on Monday, Jan. 8, commissioners asked County County Counselor Gary Thompson to draft a resolution eliminating the long-standing committee following a closed-door session with county Fire Chief Randy Hegwald.
The executive session included evaluations of all non-elected department heads, including fire/emergency management department, public works department, health department and information technology department.
After returning to open session, the commissioners quizzed Hegwald about the fire board. Hegwald was asked by Commissioner Jim Johnson to talk about the advantages and disadvantage of the fire board.
Hegwald explained that the fire board was established to oversee the fire department and the fire chief as an administrative oversight committee.
“The main thing they do is kind of check over the budget before I turn it in to you guys,” said Hegwald. “They have no voting authority. They can make recommendations to myself or you guys.”
“They are an advisory board,” said Thompson.
Commissioner Danny McCullough asked Hegwald if he worked with the board on the fire department budget or just presented it to them. Hegwald answered that he just presented it to them.
Hegwald said the board met every other month on the third Thursday.
After being asked about the pros of having the board, the fire chief said that, in the situation where a large financial project was in progress like a new fire station or a new truck, it would be nice to have them as the public buy in.
Johnson said, “If we were going to build a new fire station we would probably want community involvement anyway.”
Thompson said the main point for having an advisory board is to provide another channel for public input to the staff and to the elected officials. He pointed out the health advisory board and airport advisory boards.
Hegwald said one of the cons of the board is the three firefighters on the board, and sometimes there’s that conflict.
He said that some of the firefighters on the board approach him with the attitude, “You’re the chief, but I am still on this board over you.”
“There’s been some conflicts there where it doesn’t go real smooth sometimes,” Hegwald said,
Thompson said, “I think there is a misunderstanding. The fire board is not over the fire chief. The fire board is there to advise the fire chief, which is different.”
“In Randy’s role, I think it creates a few problems for the chief,” McCullough said. “I don’t think we are benefitting off of it as much as we should or could be.”
McCullough added that the board could make Hegwald’s job much harder, and it could be used to turn other firefighters’ opinions again him. He said he would be in favor of putting together a resolution to dissolve the fire board.
Johnson said he would agree.
“I think we’re hindering Randy’s process of being able to operate his department,” said Johnson.
Commission Chair Jason Hightower said, “I think it is important that we have public opinion and stuff from that standpoint, but it needs to be in the right way and form.”
Thompson said that since the commission was in consensus he would draw up the resolution for next week.
In a telephone conversation on Tuesday, fire board chair Eddie Anderson said that he was planning to attend next week's commission meeting next Tuesday to get Hegwald fired.
Anderson said that the county fire departments were losing good, quality firefighters because of Hegwald, and he was replacing them with firefighters with no experience.
He said that Hegwald was not providing the new firefighters with the training that they needed. He explained that there were three firefighters on the board and four members that were appointed by the commissioners, one from each district and one at-large.
Anderson said that since Doug Barlet had retired as fire chief, the fire board meetings had gone from monthly meetings to meeting every other month and sometimes longer.
“Randy doesn’t like to have to answer to the board,” Anderson said.
When asked if he would give contact information for other board members to interview, Anderson said that as chair he was trying to do everything possible to keep them from expressing their opinions openly because he did not want to lose them as firefighters.
Russell Beth, long-time fire board member, was contacted about the commissioners' decision. He was surprised at the commission's decision but said that he did not have any comment at this time.