Members of the Litchfield City Council met remotely again on Thursday, May 21, via Zoom. The aldermen spent 35 minutes in open session, with the majority of the meeting pertaining to the status of volunteer firefighter Russ Campbell.
Campbell called in to the meeting and said that he was disappointed in the news he had received from his attorney, Chris Sherer, regarding his standing in the volunteer fire department and what had changed between this meeting and when Sherer, Campbell and Litchfield City Attorney Kit Hantla had met on May 7. Campbell also asked Hantla to explain what his status in the fire department was at this time.
Hantla said that the final decision, for a variety of reasons, was to suspend Campbell from being on the scene at fires until his retirement, which had been scheduled for July. He said at that time, the suspension would be lifted and Campbell would receive all the honors from the department he deserved.
Hantla also said that further discussion had taken place with the department heads, who made the final determination, not Hantla.
Campbell said that being placed on suspension from hearsay was unfair and that he had been a loyal firefighter for the city for 40 years, from the Explorers program to the volunteer department. He said that the way he is being treated shows people how the city treats people and expressed frustration over not being able to meet with the decision makers in person before the final decision was made.
Hantla said that Campbell was given opportunities in the past to speak and was entitled to his opinion, but this is the decision that had been made.
Campbell said that the decision has also been hard for his family and said that he had never seen a person voice their opinion in a private meeting, then be kicked out of the department.
Campbell also said that the department is losing three good firefighters and that this situation is a blemish on the council’s record.
On Dec. 19, the Litchfield City Council passed an amendment to the ordinance pertaining to the volunteer division of the Litchfield Fire Department. Section C of the ordinance (34.065) states, “All current and future volunteer firefighters shall be subject to and regulated by the City of Litchfield Fire Department Rules and Regulations. All volunteer firefighters hired after January 1, 2020 shall successfully complete the Basic Operations Firefighter Course and pass the State Exam within two years in order to remain on the Department.”
Before that vote in December, Alderman Dwayne Gerl, who was absent from Thursday’s meeting, asked if this meant that volunteers would have to go through schooling in order to be on the volunteer fire department. Interim Fire Chief Joe Holomy said that it did, but schooling would be done in house.
At the time, Holomy added that 13 of the 19 volunteers had already completed training and those who hadn’t were still able to be with the department, but could not go into burning buildings. He added that two of the six without training had expressed interest in taking the training.
Campbell told the council that no direction regarding training was ever given to him or the other two firefighters who would not be allowed on the scene of a fire.
Mayor Steve Dougherty told Campbell, who is also the president of Mac’s Fire and Safety in Litchfield, that the council wants him to receive the recognition he deserves after nearly 40 years of work with the city’s fire department, but things have changed a lot over the years. Dougherty also said that the city was hoping to work things out, but wasn’t able to when litigation came into the picture.
Campbell expressed his disappointment before leaving the meeting, but said he would set up a time to collect his personal affects.
The other parts of the meeting went quickly, with the approval of the minutes from the May 7 meeting and approval of 18 appointments to the zoning, police pension, police and fire commission, planning commission, economic development, airport authority and tree boards starting off the meeting.
In new business, the council approved the preliminary plan for the Plummer Commercial Park, with Alderman Mark Brown voting against it in a 6-1 vote.
The project is slated for an 11.56 acre lot behind Jimmy Johns and RP Lumber, being developed by RLP Development of Edwardsville. During the planning commission meeting, members were concerned with traffic congestion at Weir and Rt. 16 and discussed solutions, including connecting the newly created Plummer Drive with Thunderbird Circle. The planning commission approved the plan 7-0, with four absent, before the project came to the council.
Street department items passing included the purchase of a Caterpillar mini excavator for $63,630 from Altorfer, Inc., accepted a proposal from Martin Engineering for $21,000 for the overlay and curb rehabilitation of State Street from Sargent Street to Union Avenue, approved pay request number nine from Gelly Excavating and Construction for $393,912.18 for work on the I-55 commerce park and approved a bid from RCS Construction, Inc. for $391,332.76 for the reconstruction of North Illinois from Ryder Street to Union Avenue.
In economic development business, the council approved railroad repairs for the Litchfield Industrial Park spur for $17,255, approved submittal of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Development Rebuild Illinois Fast-Track Public Infrastructure Grant and approved a resolution of support of planning for parks and recreation, which will help the city in their bid for OSLAD grant for a proposed sports complex in the Route 66 Crossing development.
The council also approved engineering services for the bidding and construction phase of the Lake Lou Yaeger Watershed Implementation project for an amount not to exceed $98,800, approved an ordinance adopting a policy prohibiting sexual harassment required by the state and approved a proposal from Neuhaus Heating and Air Conditioning for replacing the HVAC equipment at City Hall at a cost not to exceed $241,960.
The council also gave the ok to open up the long-term campground at Lake Lou Yaeger, with some restrictions due to social distancing. Mayor Dougherty said that the cabins and beach would not open this year.
The council would go into closed session at 7:05 p.m., with no further action taken. They will meet again, either remotely or in person, on Thursday, June 4, at 6:30 p.m.