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Wilkey not giving up

Former chief convinced court's order dismantling Gardner Fire Department will be reversed

Published: Thursday, July 5, 2012 8:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 12:47 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Herald Photo by Lisa Pesavento — lpesavento@morrisdailyherald.com)
A sign outside of the Gardner Fire Department pleads to residents to help save the fire department.
Caption
(Herald Photo by Lisa Pesavento — lpesavento@morrisdailyherald.com)
Randy Wilkey, former fire chief of the Gardner Fire Department, shares his side of the story of the ongoing battle between the fire department and the Gardner Fire Protection District.

"It's not over," said the now former Gardner Volunteer Fire Department chief, Randy Wilkey, Monday about the conflict between the department and the trustees of the Gardner Fire Protection District.

As of last fall, the department is no longer under contract for services with the district and Wilkey is no longer chief. Wilkey said, however, he and the firefighters from the department that stand firmly behind him and still recognize him as their chief are not giving up yet.

"We do believe, in the end, either through the next court date or in the appellate process that the ruling will be overturned," Wilkey said.

The court sided with the district for control over bank accounts and equipment June 20. A hold was placed on the bank accounts the week of the ruling and the equipment was handed over by the department to the districtbeginning June 25, per court order.

Wilkey and a department lieutenant, Chris Himes, listed many items that were seized from the department, including the emergency generator, fire trucks and office equipment, but also expressed concerns about the damages done to the firehouse floor.

Wilkey said the people who came to take the property from the department "came in with a Skid Steer and spun around on it, put black marks all over (the floor)." He then pointed out scuffs and scrapes on the "$20,000 floor."

"That's what happens when you move that type of equipment," Grundy County Sheriff Terry Marketti said. "And I had a court order to do it."

Marketti is also an adviser to the fire district board and a former district trustee.

Wilkey expressed concerns regarding having to have the floor redone, but Marketti said the district plans on getting the building after a hearing scheduled Aug. 10, so Wilkey "won't have to worry about it."

"(The building) is paid for by the tax dollars, so there is no reason for it not to go back to the district," Marketti said Tuesday afternoon.

"If they are so confident that they are going to get the building, why did they cause so much damage?" Wilkey asked.

Wilkey said he hopes to "get our fire department back, our equipment back and three trustees we can work with." If and when that happens, he hopes to sit down and negotiate a new contract that is equitable to both sides.

Wilkey and the department are "pursuing other avenues that are out there," but would not discuss them at this point in time.

The village of Gardner does have fire and ambulance services provided by the Gardner Fire District. Its newly appointed chief, Terry Jensen, has taken over operations and has fire personnel in place. The district has been operating out of village hall and the Garfield Township building.

"This is no more than a hate crime. What they have done to this community is a hate crime. And it's all because there's seven or eight individuals that have vendettas against me," Wilkey said.

The whole battle between the district and department started when Wilkey refused to give the district board original receipts to pay the department 's bills, according to previous statements by district representatives and Wilkey.

Eventually, when Wilkey refused to give originals, the district refused to pay the bills. This led to the feud going to court.

The district trustees maintained they were elected by the people to make sure taxpayer money was being spent correctly.

Wilkey said previously that because the department is a separate corporation, once the fire department receives the revenue from the tax levy, the monies are no longer public funds and are spent per the department 's budget, not how the district tells the department to spend the funds. And he said the department needed the original receipts for its audit.
ONGOING FIGHT

The court battle between the district and the department continues.

Last week the district filed a motion to dismiss the district's amended complaint filed May 7, which is a six-count complaint alleging the district violated the law. Included is a count asking the court to declare the service agreement between the department and district was not terminated, vacating the district's action ending its contract with the department, and reinstating the agreement.

The motion to dismiss states the court already decided this issue in February holding up the district's right to terminate.

Filed Monday was the department answer to the district's motion to dismiss, denying the proper termination of its agreement with the district and denying that it misappropriated funds.

In a court order filed earlier this month, Judge Robert Marsaglia stated the fire district would probably prevail, proving the department had misappropriated funds when it used department money to challenge an election ballot for candidates running for the Gardner Fire Protection District.

The district previously argued the use of department funds to pay for "restaurant and bar tabs" was also a misappropriation. The court did not support the use of department funds for alcohol, but said it was not a misappropriation since the corporate purpose of the non-for-profit includes "To foster and cultivate the social, educational and business relationship of the members and to hold festivals and other entertainment," according to the order.

Additional court filings from this week include an order by Marsaglia granting the Village of Gardner's petition to intervene regarding the aspects of the litigation between the department and district involving Tax Increment Financing District dollars, which are given by the village to the district. The department is demanding $20,471.59 of TIF funds it claims it was supposed to receive from the district.

Staff Writer Christina Chapman contributed to this report.

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