By Pat Pratt
Now approaching one year without a permanent leader at the helm, Troy Fire Protection District says interviews for a new chief are expected to begin this month and a hire is expected by the end of January.
Board of trustees president Steve Lynn said Thursday the district is using Emergency Services Consulting International, a subsidiary of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, to help with the search. Cost of the service is about $17,000 and includes target advertisement for the position, screening, interviewing, testing, performing background checks and other services.
“Because we are a volunteer board and have limited personnel within the department, the board felt it was important to elicit professionals for such an important role,” Lynn said.
According to a job posting on the Illinois Fire Chiefs’ Association and district websites, the job pays between $90,000 and $140,000 per year based on experience. The deadline for applications was Nov. 4, according to the advertisement.
Currently, the position is held by interim chief Kevin Manso, who was appointed in November 2021. Manso replaced Chief Ed Collins, who was terminated at a board meeting that month, according to minutes posted on the district website of a Nov. 23, 2021 executive session.
“Chief Ed Collins joined the meeting,” the minutes read. “Dave (attorney David Livingstone) informed the chief that the board had decided on a different management direction and was going to terminate the agreement. After some discussion and clarification, the chief executed the Employment Termination Agreement that David had prepared. The chief was asked to return all district property, and left the meeting.”
Lynn declined to comment on the reasons behind the former chief’s departure. He was not a member of the board at the time. The minutes show the president position was then held by Kevin Byrne, who now serves as a trustee.
Collins was given severance totaling 120 days of compensation, about $34,000, as well as pay for 15 vacation days, about $4,300. Board members at the meeting included Byrne, Phil Loethen, who is no longer a member, and Mike Cushing. Board member Ryan Cunningham was absent from the meeting.
In the months that followed, issues in the district would surface, apparently reaching a boiling point in March, when several district associates voiced their concerns to the Madison County Board.
Ryan Cunningham, who is still serving as a trustee according to the district’s website, at that meeting described the board as being in “complete chaos.” He said he would “rather resign,” but would not.
Others voiced their concerns during the meeting as well, including district employee Kelly Huelsmann, who told county officials of an incident where a board member accosted a bank teller when she would not provide confidential information, leaving the teller in tears.
Huelsmann also cited retaliation by that member for expressing her concerns, as well as the trustee setting the district up for a potential lawsuit by taking pictures of a patient at an active scene.
When asked about the trustee in question, Lynn replied he was unaware of the bank incident and therefore unable to comment. He said under the current leadership, such actions would not be tolerated.
“That behavior is unacceptable and would result in removal from the board,” he said.
In recent months new expectations have been established with members in an effort to resolve past disputes, Lynn said. The board is now focused on cohesion and in the near future when a new chief is hired, a long-term plan will be developed. He said members are committed and the future looks bright for the district.
“This board is committed to operating as a unit rather than in silos,” Lynn said. “We as a board must look and plan for tomorrow. The board is considering the use of a consulting company to help establish a long-term plan as well as a short-term strategic plan.”
“I believe the future is bright for the Troy Fire Protection District and am proud to be part of it. Troy is my hometown and I want to see this department succeed in the future,” he said.