Council extends term of fire chief by one year

The New Prague City Council unanimously approved a request at its Monday, Dec. 17, meeting to change the term of the fire chief from one to two years. Officers of the New Prague Fire Department made the request. Fire Chief Jerry Novak explained that the officers have discussed the idea for some time. It was noted a two-year term would be more beneficial. During a new chief’s first year or two they have to learn the business side of the position, get comfortable in it and build good working relationships with the city administrator, city council members, rural fire board members and city department heads. It would also allow the fire chief more time to work on projects such as the purchase of new equipment or to make beneficial changes.

Novak said that terms for fire chiefs in surrounding towns is that Lonsdale’s chief serves four years, Montgomery is two years, Belle Plaine alternates between a one year term and then two years, and Jordan’s chief serves one year and is elected by the department.

City Administrator Mike Johnson said he checked with the city attorney and they looked over the city’s charter. They found no ordinances setting criteria on the appointment of the fire chief, except the position had to be appointed at the council’s first meeting in January.

Members of the fire department currently elect the chief and the council has appointed that person. Johnson suggested the council may want to look at the process. The city attorney and the League of Minnesota Cities recommended the city consider changing it in the long term to avoid any possibilities for discrimination that could be alleged or inferred.

Council member Kristin Guerrette said she has never served as a firefighter and she’s never had to rush into a smoke filled or burning building. She felt that people from that field be able to pick their leader. "It’s important that the chief be a part of that brotherhood."

"We have a great fire department," agreed council member Mark Bartusek, adding that it would be different if they had a poor department and leadership.

Council member Dave Bruzek didn’t think at this point of time the city had to worry about it.

Mayor Chuck Nickolay asked for one change, that the fire department move its election for fire chief up to December while the appointment would still be in January. He noted how last year the department’s election and the council’s first January meeting fell on the same night.

Novak said that was something the department has discussed and he didn’t see a problem with moving it.

Bruzek asked about the assistant fire chief. Novak replied there is a first and second assistant fire chief. They support him and learn about the position.