Back Print

Paul Scott comment: Decorah's Fire Chief is "not a city employee." Say what???

Posted: Sun, Jun 11, 2017 5:32 PM

(The following is a comment by's Paul Scott):

"At the risk of embarrassing him, I will say once again that I rely on Decorah City Council member Andy Carlson to make sensible suggestions—and his comments about Decorah Fire Department staffing are no exception.

More on that later.   First I wanted to stress that last week's decision to have City Administrator Chad Bird supervise the three paid employees of the Decorah Fire Department has some positives to it.

First of all, the decision included an agreement to hire a third full-time fire engineer for the Decorah Fire Department.  There had been some discussion of cutting that position and maybe even going to a fully volunteer fire department.  But Decorah Fire Department members made a good case that such an arrangement could hinder response times when a fire alarm comes in.  That's what concerns the public most—that their house or building is protected as best it can be and won't suffer additional damage because of delays in the fire truck arriving.

The agreement also ends a situation in which performance reviews weren't being conducted on the three fire engineers.

But with all the attention paid to the city council's votes, you might have missed what I thought were some jaw-dropping comments by Fire Chief Mike Ashbacher to the City Council.  Ashbacher said he gets paychecks from the City of Decorah and has IPERS retirement payments withheld.  But despite the paychecks, Ashbacher says city officials have told him he is not a city employee.  SAY WHAT?

Ask yourself if it would make sense to have a police department in which the Police Chief was told he or she isn't a city employee—or a public library in which the Library Director is not a city employee—or a street department in which the Street Commissioner wasn't a paid employee.  This is ridiculous, of course, so why isn't the Fire Chief (and only the Fire Chief) considered a city employee?

This brings me back to Andy Carlson, who voted in favor of this new system, but in doing so added, "I'd like to see a full-time Fire Chief."  Right now, the Fire Department is the ONLY city department that isn't being led by a full-time city employee.  If city council members want to save money, they can pick a Fire Chief from one of the three full-time fire engineers, even though that solution isn't ideal.  But they have made every other department head a city employee—and the Fire Department shouldn't be an exception. 

Once again, Andy Carlson is making a sensible suggestion.  The decision reached by Decorah City Council members on the structure of the Fire Department was better than some of the other ideas it considered—but it shouldn't be their final solution."

( welcomes opposing opinions)