Friday, August 14, 2009

Cornbelt Adds Policy

Due to an error in this week's Citizen, part of the Cornbelt story on Page A1 was cut off and not continued as labeled. The Citizen apologizes for this error and will be re-running the story in its entirety in the Aug. 19 edition.

As a supplement, below is the entire story that will run next week.

Citizen Editor

The Cornbelt Fire Protection District board of trustees implemented a new procedure on Aug. 5 as they tried out a new public participation process that hopes to allow more input on issues that they feel are vital to the district.

Cornbelt Fire Protection District (CFPD) board president Derrick Odle said the idea came from his own concerns about addressing issues with the board and seeing how public participate was handled in the past.

"I felt like, if I had to bring a topic up, it would have to wait until next month's meeting and if something came up during the meeting, I couldn't get an answer until the next month,” he said.

"We developed the public participation policy that allows the public on every item or aspect that we're talking about, they can ask a question right then and there and get their answer."
Even during the first meeting with the new policy there was some public curiosity on a number of issues.

"[It] was a great example of how that can go back and forth and as an elected official 'hey I didn't think of that, that was a good point,' and allows me to just get another view point and vantage point,” said Odle

Back on Board
Recent public outcry concerning the dismissal of two firefighters based on their ages was laid to rest following an explanation of a new age policy meant to prevent safety breaches and ensure that firefighters are not dismissed prematurely.

One of the firefighters, John Harpst, was the subject of a Lettter to the Editor printed in a July edition of the Mahomet Citizen. According to Odle, that issue has been resolved.
"John Harpst is back with the fire department."

Though he could not release the name of the other firefighter for personnel reasons, he did say that that person was also back with the department.

Causing the issue to be addressed was the precaution to maintain a lawful demeanor at the CFPD.

"There was an Illinois State Statute that was set out with a mandatory age requirement [for retirement] at the age of 65. That has been changed many times since the statute was written,” said Odle.

"We had a letter from our attorney that stated 'yes, that is true, there is a state statute at the age of 65,'" he said.

"The angle that we failed to research it at was, does it affect all firefighters, and it depended one what classification; were you paid, career, paid on call, volunteer, not realizing that it does not affect the volunteer fire side at this point in its current language as it did early on in the statute when it first was written."

Odle admitted that it was a difficult decision considering Harpst's time spent with Cornbelt over the years, but given the situation, obeying what the law dictated was the top priority of the department and the board.

"It was a terrible feeling that we had to enact this state statute, but we elected to follow the law and we felt like we were following the law at the time that was in front of us and we researched it and had our attorney research it a little more and she came back an said 'yeah, it does not apply to volunteer firefighters.'"

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