The Park Rapids City Council on Tuesday approved the low bid of $7,008 from Heartland Maintenance and Repair to replace the engine of a city fleet vehicle. A competitive bid was also received from Park Rapids Ford.

City Administrator Ryan Mathisrud said the engine of the Ford F-350 pickup failed on Aug. 4-5 and, when towed to Park Rapids Ford, was found to be four quarts low on oil.

Public Facilities Superintendent Chris Fieldsend said the same street maintenance worker or two use the truck every day.

“Per their job description, the operators are to perform certain mechanical duties – daily service of equipment, oil changes monthly, or scheduled maintenance on that equipment. Clearly, that was not done.” said Fieldsend. “They definitely need to be doing those things every day, the operators do. They are our front line of catching those things.”

Fieldsend described new procedures that have been put in place to ensure this does not happen again, including monthly and yearly inspections.

Council member Tom Conway asked whether the vehicle lost its oil in a one-time event or over a period of time. Fieldsend said he does not know, but he would guess it was over time.

Council member Bob Wills asked whether a low-oil light would have come on. Fieldsend said, “There should have been. I have no idea. I certainly was not operating this piece of equipment. I don’t know what happened.”

He said all fleet vehicles carry reminders, either in the form of a sticker on the windshield or, in the case of some newer trucks, a light on the dash that signals when an oil change is due.

“The operators are supposed to check the oil daily, or with each use,” he said, adding that a tracking system is being implemented to ensure this is done.

“I want to get it paid for and get it fixed,” said Conway. “We need to take care of business and have the equipment right. At the same time, we have to have a level of accountability. Any time a department is issued a piece of equipment, somebody has to be accountable for maintaining it.”

Conway moved to refer the issue to staff for investigation to determine how the oil was lost and whether any disciplinary action is warranted. He also asked Mathisrud to schedule a personnel committee meeting to discuss the results of the investigation.

A bigger issue, council member Erika Randall said, “is that we have two departments that are jointly responsible for this piece of equipment. One’s responsible for people, and one’s responsible for the truck itself. That doesn’t seem to be working great.”

Besides Fieldsend’s department, which oversees city-owned equipment, Randall was apparently alluding to the public works department supervised by Scott Burlingame. She described it is a “very strange arrangement that I have yet to understand, with operators being supervised by one person, and vehicles and other equipment being supervised by another person.”

Randall called the truck engine issue an example of why the division between the two departments should be re-evaluated “because, I think, sometimes it’s too easy for one department to simply point the finger at the other department, and for nobody to be held accountable.”

Conway recommended a process that, “when a department has equipment or personnel or anything issued to them, that department head is accountable” for their care, as is anyone to whom he or she delegates that responsibility.

He also asked why the vehicle was towed to the Ford dealership rather than using in-house maintenance. Fieldsend said it was his decision, when the pickup was towed from Nevis.

Conway said he felt the investigation should also discuss a standard procedure for when to use in-house vs. outside resources.

The council unanimously passed Conway’s motion.

Well pump down

Mathisrud reported that the city’s main well pump failed on Tuesday.

“The motor on it seized up,” he said, adding that they brought in a new pump from St. Cloud and had contractors working on replacing it that evening.

The county’s emergency management system was used to contact residents with a reminder to conserve water during the expected four-hour timeframe for the work.