City Administrator Ryan Mathisrud recommended the termination of Public Facilities Superintendent Chris Fieldsend at the Park Rapids City Council's special meeting Wednesday.
Council member Erika Randall made a motion to continue the meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11 to allow Fieldsend to voluntarily resign.
Mathisrud's recommendation is related to the engine failure of a city vehicle. A review of the service records showed 14,006- and 17,366-mile intervals on the vehicle, rather than the typical 3,000 miles, and oil was consumed over time.
"Based on the facts obtained during the course of the investigation and summarized in my report to council on Jan. 28, I recommend that Mr. Fieldsend be discharged from his employment with the City of Park Rapids. He's been given notice of this recommendation in my Jan. 31 letter to him," Mathisrud said, adding, ultimately, the city council is the decision maker in this action.
Attorney Steve Peloquin, who represents Fieldsend, noted that a written response was provided to the council.
On Fieldsend's behalf, Peloquin commented that there was confusion in the ranks of both maintenance workers and supervisors about who was responsible and what steps were to be taken to make sure the situation did not happen again.
An administrative timeline for the development of a new maintenance policy was also unclear, he said, noting that a procedures policy was in the works.
Peloquin said the council has not resolved the "overlapping, somewhat confusing job descriptions between city department heads, especially as it relates to fleet maintenance."
Who is responsible for training needs to be clarified as well, he continued. Is it the role of the public works/utilities supervisor or the public facilities supervisor?
At prior council meetings, Peloquin said it has been brought forward that “there is an issue about the scope of clear responsibility and reporting – from the people that have to check the dipstick all the way up to the city administrator.”
"This continues to be a systemic failure," he said, and there appeared to be “multiple failures in the chain of command.”
Peloquin said the numbers are clear, and Fieldsend accepts responsibility for failing to catch the fact that this machine was not maintained properly.
“Service intervals were clearly too long,” he said.
As for any prior discipline of Fieldsend, Peloquin pointed out that was 15 years ago. "Other than that, there was no recognition of the fact that all other vehicles have been and are being maintained properly. Whatever lesson has been learned, so far, has been taken to heart."
In all other aspects of Fieldsend's "multifaceted responsibilities concerning the buildings in town as well as the fleet, website and IT," Peloquin said Fieldsend has done "a pretty good job."
"This is a serious issue, and the council has taken it seriously, as it should. As a taxpayer, I would expect that you would do this," he said.
However, Peloquin questioned whether the damage to the operation of the city rose to the level of termination, "or is your progressive discipline policy such that something different should be done here?"
The council should recognize that Fieldsend “alone is not responsible for this failure," Peloquin concluded. "Termination seems to be a harsh remedy for what should more likely be a proportional response in discipline that recognizes that others have some share of the responsibility and that extends to perhaps even this council."
The council asked no questions.
Randall said, "I just want to say my comments from last week stand. I also want to note I support Administrator Mathisrud and his recommendation."
She then made the motion to continue the meeting to Feb. 11 to give Fieldsend an opportunity to submit a resignation. "Should that not occur, this discussion would continue at that time," she said.
The motion passed 3-2, with council members Tom Conway and Bob Wills opposed.
"What if he doesn't want to resign?" asked Peloquin. "Do we need to put it off at this time?"
Randall replied, "We'll leave it open until next week."