TOWN OF BELOIT
The town of Beloit might lend its fire chief to Clinton, where months of turmoil have left the Clinton Fire Department without a chief and at odds with its fire district board.
The Beloit Town Board on Monday night approved Gene Wright, town of Beloit fire chief, to serve as interim chief in Clinton. Wright will remain fire chief for the town.
David Hooker, Clinton police chief, said Wright will provide direction for the Clinton Fire Department to “see what’s working and what isn’t working.” He also will give the board guidance on adopting new policies.
“We picked Chief Wright because he’s a very reputable fire chief,” Hooker said. “He also trains on a national level. It’s a good thing for us.”
Changes at the Clinton Fire Department—and Wright’s approval—will be the topics tonight during a special meeting of the Clinton Village Board, Clinton Town Board, Bradford Town Board and Clinton Fire District Board.
Turmoil between the fire district and fire department members has been simmering for several months. Hooker said there’s been a “small amount of controversy.”
Attorneys for the fire district board and its municipalities wrote a memo in response to concerns raised by the department and residents after John Rindfleisch resigned as Clinton fire chief at the end of November.
The Jan. 30 memo cites “difficulties” in working with Rindfleisch and indicates it was written in response to “considerable discussion and disagreement within the community concerning administration of the fire protection district.”
Rindfleisch told The Gazette on Monday he could not comment on his resignation or on the memo.
The town of Clinton and village of Clinton created the fire district in 1962, and the town of Bradford joined the district in 1979, according to the memo. The district is governed by an eight-member board comprising two members from each town and four from the village.
The memo indicates the fire district board had left the financial administration and budgeting to Rindfleisch without “an adequate degree of review and supervision” for several years.
The fire district board in late 2016 approved the 2017 budget, but Rindfleisch later notified the board the district had “run out of cash,” according to the memo.
The department began the 2017 calendar year with a negative checking account balance and $8,000 in outstanding invoices from 2016, according to the memo.
In June 2017, Rindfleisch resigned as fire district administrator and turned over bookkeeping materials to the board treasurer, Jack Laatz. Rindfleisch remained as fire chief, according to the memo.
Laatz found more financial issues, including the use of expired gear, budget miscalculations and incorrectly recorded payroll taxes, according to the memo.
“Lest there be any doubt, no one is saying or implying that any cash shortage was due to any malfeasance,” the memo reads. “The shortage merely reflects that the spending of money was not consistent with the budget.
“There is no intent to impugn the integrity of Chief Rindfleisch in any way. He has served his community for many years and deserves the gratitude and respect of all,” the memo reads.
Communication between Rindfleisch and the fire district board about budget fixes “did not go well,” and Rindfleisch ultimately resigned as fire chief, according to the memo.
Rindfleisch was “not terminated, but resigned of his own volition,” according to the memo.
Without a chief in place, members of the fire department have been complaining that the fire district board has not been listening to them, according to the memo.
“The district board is fully aware of the discontent among members of the department about some of the decisions being made, but in the absence of a chief or an administrator, the board is attempting to maintain its primary line of authority from the municipalities to the fire district,” the memo reads.