GODFREY, IL-- Fire Protection District trustees have removed their fire chief after a reported falling out between the chief and the head of the district.
The three district trustees voted unanimously after a closed session Monday to terminate Mike Mitchell’s contract as fire chief. A release issued by the board said the decision was based on differences with Mitchell "over management issues."
Per his contract, Mitchell will revert to the position he had previously -- assistant chief.
Several sources, including firefighters in the district, said the termination of Mitchell’s contract came after a dispute with district President Todd Bowers.
The dispute involved a water problem at Evangelical Elementary School and disagreement over whether the school could hold classes while the problem was fixed, said one firefighter, who declined to be identified because of fire district policy that could get him demoted for talking to the press.
"Mitchell said they couldn’t shut the water down and have class due to the safety of students," he said. "The water company (Illinois-American Water Co.) went over Mitchell’s head to Bowers. Bowers said they could have school.
"Mitchell didn’t care for that, so he wrote a letter to the board of trustees saying he didn’t agree with what took place. Bowers said, ‘You wrote me a letter, you’re done.’"
Mitchell could not be reached for comment Tuesday. His son, Chris Mitchell, said the fire district placed his father on two weeks’ vacation after the trustees terminated his contract as fire chief. Technically, Mitchell is still fire chief for those two weeks, as his contract requires two weeks’ notice on a change.
"He’s very upset," Chris Mitchell said. "He did not know this was coming. He had not been talked to or approached in any way. He’d felt he’d done an exceptional job as chief."
Bowers and trustee William Ressler could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Trustee Moe Hand deferred comment to Bowers.
Assistant chief Jim Fowler will serve as chief until assistant chief Steve Kasten returns from vacation. Kasten will then serve as interim chief. The board said it anticipates hiring a consultant to search for a new chief inside and outside the district.
Mitchell’s contract as fire chief was renewed in August. He had been fire chief since 1999 but has endured a bumpy road during much of his tenure.
Firefighter John Clark said the loss of Mitchell as chief is a detriment to the district.
"When Mitchell was appointed chief, we went from a department that was status quo to a department that was looking toward the future, a department that had a vision and had goals," he said. "We were moving in a forward momentum, and now I feel they’ve just dropped this huge brick wall in front of us."
Clark said Mitchell pushed to add manpower, standardized the district’s guidelines for every aspect of the job and always had safety as his primary concern.
"Always at the forefront was my safety and the safety of all the other firemen," Clark said. "He’s gone out and acquired grants so that we can get new equipment, thermal imaging cameras and various equipment that we never dreamed we would have in our vehicles.
"To have that cut short .... Unfortunately, there are a few individuals with the power to do so. I believe from the time he got in, their motives were to get him back out. He disrupted the status quo and the good ol’ boys."
The firefighter who asked not to be named said the district simply has issues.
"The things that Chief Mitchell has done have been above and beyond for the firefighters and the citizens of Godfrey," he said. "It’s pathetic. The citizens of Godfrey are the ones that are hurting."
He said the firefighters learned about the change Tuesday morning and were shocked. He said they have discussed action, including taking the matter to the Madison County Board, which appointed the fire district trustees.
"I found out this morning," Clark said. "I got a message on my cell phone. I said, ‘This can’t be happening.’"
Sources in the district said Bowers represented the swing vote in matters regarding Mitchell, with Hand backing Mitchell and Ressler against him.
When Ressler was appointed as trustee in summer 2002, County Board member Gene Frizzo said he told Ressler to not act on any "vendetta" against Mitchell.
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11-27-2003, 03:20 PM #1
Fire Chief dismissed - just doing his jobLife is only temporary, but freedom goes on forever. God bless those who gave all.
11-27-2003, 08:10 PM #2
Sounds like its time to give the district some hell.-Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
-Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.
-Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.
-Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.
11-27-2003, 08:17 PM #3
- Join Date
- Nov 2003
- randleman, nc, usa
This sounds like a situation in our county. The members of thre fire dept ended up sueing the board.. Put a black eye on the dept and board and also hurt the community...
11-27-2003, 10:23 PM #4
Anyone contending my idea that those making decisions about his termination must have never touched a hose or seen the inside of a fire truck? Of course the "go-getter" is likely to come across as difficult, especially to the status quo. They're gonna find out (probably way too late) that this chief has made great decisions for the public, and they booted him. Seems to be a lot of this in government. Best of luck to our brother!~Kevin
Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong
11-28-2003, 10:17 AM #5
- Join Date
- Feb 2001
- Illinois-where pertnear is close enough!
This points to a very real problem with the appointment of fire district trustees.
But I will also say that the selection of volunteer firefighters is done in much the same way on many departments.
And I believe that there should be a written procedure for both.
What are the qualifications for a trustee to be appointed? He must live in the fire district that he serves and is appointed by the county board. The name is often submitted by other fire district trustees. Even if the county board is presented with a petition with 1000 signatures saying they want someone else, the county board will appoint the one that the other trustees want. And therein lies the problem in the system. Since the county county board is a large, elected body of government, a fire district could not control it for the most part. BUT THEY CAN CONTROL PASSING THE REFERENDUM FOR THE ELECTION OF THREE TRUSTEES. And then electing them.
Will that insure that everything is done the right way? No. But you are getting people on your fire district board that knows that they must listen or pay the consequences when their term is up. In many fire districts, trustees are basically there for life. Don't believe me? Go to a fire district convention and take note that the majority of trustees are drawing social security. And it's not that bad that they don't know anything about fire suppression. It's bad because they are out of touch and have been for some time and still believe that you can get a loaf of bread for a nickel. They don't spend the tax money as they are required to by law. They save it for the next Great Depression; all the while watching their station crumble and their fire trucks breaking down on a regular basis, morale in the fire department as low as a snake's belly; but they don't care. They are the trustees, by God. They will spend a thousand dollars to go to a conference for them, but let the fire chief ask for a thousand dollars for training. What do you suppose the answer will be?
Elected trustees make perfect sense. Unfortunately, I am a minority. I am an elected trustee. I am also a former chief and firefighter. I have the firefighters safety as priority #1. THAT will never change. Yeah; even if it costs money. We'll get it somewhere.
It sounds like this chief got smoked for voicing disagreement in a letter. OK; sit down and come to a consensus. But a trustee making decisions without their "fourth" trustee-the chief-is no way to run a fire department. What's next? The trustees running the fireground? Bad move. Now; with my experience as a former firefighter, it's fun to sit down with the men and talk "shop". They know and respect that and they also know that I can't give them everything they want but I will give it an accurate assessment and an honest answer in the end.
The other two trustees are not former firefighters, but they are two very good people and have the district's welfare in their minds. We make a very good team.
But it never could have happened were we not elected. I was not willing to put my fate in the hands of a county board. That is just silly.
Control your destiny. Elect your trustees. Make them EARN their spot and WORK to keep it.
God bless you Godfrey. I hope things work out for you. I hope cooler heads prevail and this is given another look. It certainly wouldn't hurt for the department to show their support for their chief. That is; if you do support your chief.
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11-28-2003, 10:55 AM #6
Obviously, I can't speak for Illinois, but Ohio sees the Fire Chief or a Certified Fire Safety Inspector as the "Authority Having Jurisdiction (the AHJ) and the sole authority to make decisions regarding these types of Fire Code or general fire safety issues unless they are directly addressed in the Ohio Fire Code.
It is outside of any Fire Commission or similar political or pseudo-political body or agent to make these types of decisions. To do so could actually involve charges of Obstruction of Official Business against the person stepping out their area of responsibility. There could potentially be criminal charges as well against this individual should they act in this unauthorized capacity, and an incident occurred that had resulted in injury or loss of life. The civil exposure to the individual commission member is tremendous, especially if he actually acted out of his scope of authority.
I know of one partucular incident where there were serious violations of the fire code cited (in a day care, no less), and the person cited complained to the Chief Political Officer of the political subdivision (this is all vague to cover my arse) where this occurred. They absolutely refused to let the State Fire Marshal's office make the final call on the citation. The sole concern of this politician's cronies was votes, and it took a suggestion of an Obstruction charge to get them to back off. The violations were corrected without further problems.
Without knowing the whole Illinois story, this sounds like the all too familiar "Good Ol' Boy's club" kind of BS. It only reinforces the old saying that all politics is local.Steve Gallagher
"I don't apologize for anything. When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes
11-28-2003, 02:56 PM #7
- Join Date
- Jun 2002
- Glenn Dale Md, Heart of the P.G. County Fire Belt....
I'm on Board with Art and Steve........
CR and Steamer covered all the bases, but one thing just popped up. As I read it, there was a problem with a lack of water at the school? If this was the case, Where was the local Health Authority? Try holding classes in a school with no water here and I don't have to raise hell, the Health Department will have already shut the school themselves. Lack of water is a serious health issue for them. Stay Safe....Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
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Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006
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11-28-2003, 03:40 PM #8
HWOODS just made a great point. Where was the Health Dept? And where was the school board? I would think that if parents of children in this school had known of a problem with water then a majority wouldn't allow their children to attend until it was fixed. And since when does the Board of Trustees make decisions in place of the Health Dept. and School Board? I am only around 100mi. from Godfrey and at least in this part of IL the trustees dont have anything to do with whether or not a school can be open. It sounds like just a reason to get rid of someone that the trustees didn't like.
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