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Joint powers agreement under review

Members of the Eastern Hubbard County Fire District have agreed to review and present proposed changes to the "amended and restated" joint powers agreement at the September meeting.

The revised agreement was drafted at the request of fire board members, which is comprised of representatives from Akeley city and Akeley, Badoura and White Oak townships.

Fire board members contend requested information has not been forthcoming by the department.

Specifically, according to Tim Scouton of Badoura Township, monthly copies of First Response financial statements and an asset inventory were not presented as requested.

Gaming issues, Scouton said, are not part of the dialogue, which, he said, "is run perfectly."

"It's a liability issue," explained Ed Dvorak of the fire board's request. "The board is liable if anything goes wrong. We have a responsibility to constituents," the White Oak Township representative said.

Fire chief Lee Johnson argued at this month's fire board meeting that the city of Akeley is the governing body of the EHCFD Relief Association, not the fire board. "The state does not recognize this group."

The fire chief also stated First Response is not part of the fire board's responsibility.

But attorney Jim McGill, hired by the fire board to draft the amended document, said with the implementation of this statutory agreement, the board has a responsibility to oversee First Response and the Firemen's Relief Association.

McGill cited Section 1.1 of the agreement that states, "It is the general purpose of the parties to this agreement to establish an organization to jointly and cooperatively provide fire protection services, including, but not limited to, fire prevention, fire suppression and first response to medical emergencies."

Johnson argued the fire department had never agreed to this. "I started the organization," Johnson said. "I think I should know how it went down."

But Dvorak produced a contract from 1987 with language that mirrored the Section 1.1 of the amended agreement.

Fire board member Jake Emmeck said 90 percent of the copy in the new document replicates the original.

McGill said changes to the document primarily deal with financial statements, equipment and new hires. He indicated the fire department and First Response have the right to review and local units of government have the right to reject.

Contacted after the meeting, Johnson said providing the information has not been an issue. "It's the manner they went about it," he said of contacting an attorney and members of the press.

Monthly reports were presented in the past, he said, but largely ignored by the fire board. Johnson also said they were advised by their insurance representative that the asset inventory of items over $100 is not necessary. The department has an inventory, but it requires an update, he said.

Johnson said he and other members of the department are working on revisions to the joint powers agreement, which will be discussed at the next department meeting.

But he pointed out it's the city and township representatives who sign the joint powers agreement document, not the department.

"We want to move forward in a positive direction," said Sebrina Hegg, treasurer of First Response. "Move as a team, to make a joint powers agreement that will benefit the entire community."

"All we want is to see where the funds are," said George Lueck, Akeley Township representative on the fire board. "We're not telling you how to suppress a fire."