What might be the final chapter in the story of the Soldiers Grove Fire Department’s missing radios and their replacements may have been played out at a village board meeting on Monday, Sept. 16.
At the second special meeting in less than a week, the Soldiers Grove Village Board voted to rescind a previous motion to pay the bill for the replacement radios and a large associated bill for interest. As part of the motion, the board agreed to pay the cost billed for the radios and a much smaller interest payment than originally charged.
At an earlier special board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 10, a motion was made by village trustee Bob Froiseth and seconded by village trustee Jim Helgerson to pay D & Z Rescue Products $20,399 for a past due invoice. The billed amount included $11,999.94 for six Icom portable radios and $8,399.96 for assessed late fee interest. The motion passed with a vote of four in favor (Froiseth, Helgerson, Laurel Hestetune and Paul Nicholson); one opposed (Jerry Moran); and one abstention (Shayne Chapman).
However, the board, including Soldiers Grove Village President Laurel Hestetune, took a different view of things at their second special meeting held last Monday night. Like the meeting six days prior, the agenda indicated there was a possibility the board would “adjourn to closed session for the purpose of conferring with legal counsel with respect to litigation in which it is or is likely to become involved; fire department related.” The closed session didn’t happen. Just like it hadn’t happened the previous week. Both meetings were held in open session.
Instead, the meeting Monday night started with a slow point-by-point presentation from the village president. Hestetune outlined why he was calling for the previous motion to be rescinded. At times, he asked questions of the fire department members present and received brief answers.
Hestetune said of the meeting the week before that there were “a few answers I don’t know how to handle.”
The village president began by referencing a statement by firefighter Clark Mikes that the matter was discussed at a fire department meeting in December.
The next point that Hestetune referenced was a statement by Soldiers Grove Fire Department Chief Dave Clason that they were informed of the missing radios at a February meeting.
Clason responded to Hestetune’s point by explaining the radios were known to be missing prior to the February meeting, but the decision was made to “let it slide for two or three meetings” in hopes that members would find them and realize they needed to be returned.
Hestetune questioned what happened between February and May.
Soldiers Grove Fire Department Lieutenant Bill Zirk, who also owns D & Z Rescue, told Hestetune the report to the sheriff’s department was made in March.
In fact a copy of the report produced by Crawford County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Wade Hutchison indicated he was informed by the department that the radios were missing on Feb. 5. Hutchison was present at the meeting Monday, but was not called upon to speak.
Hestetune pointed out that inspections done monthly by the department prior to the radios being reported missing had always indicated they were present.
Clason insisted that members of the volunteer fire department were given a chance to bring in radios and two were returned.
Hestetune asked Clason about fires that occurred during the time the radios went missing. The chief responded by saying he could not recall the dates of fires that occurred without a logbook.
Then, Hestetune brought up another incident when the radios may have been lost at a training session in Readstown. Again, Hestetune emphasized that a subsequent inspection should have shown they were missing, so Readstown authorities could have been contacted.
Finally, Hestetune settled on the interest assessed to the fire department, and ultimately the village, through D & Z’s billing. The village president pointed out that Zirk, the owner of D & Z, had justified charging the interest because he had to make up for what he was being charged in late fees by the company from which he had obtained the radios for the department.
Hestetune asked Zirk if that was a correct assessment of the situation and Zirk replied with a simple ‘yes.’
Hestetune said he asked Zirk repeatedly what the name of the supplying company was and never got a response. However, with the help of his wife, the village president found the GNRS outlet from which the radios were ordered and talked to sales rep who confirmed the radios were sent to D & Z in May. The sales rep declined to reveal the price charged Zirk for the radios.
Hestetune said it would take legal action to learn the price. He also noted the cost had been a subject of dispute between village trustee Jerry Moran and the fire department. In the previous special meeting, Moran had defended his statements that the very same radios, for which Zirk charged almost $2,000, could be purchased for just $1,000.
Hestetune did note that prices for radios ranged down from $1,900 to $600 on the GMRS website. However, he noted he could not get a cost for the radios ordered for the fire department because they were currently out of stock at GMRS.
Hestetune said he was not disputing a price paid by Zirk for the radios nor was he disputing his right to add to that price to make a profit.
However, the village president did take issue with Zirk’s charging 10 percent interest for the bill past 30 days and adding another 20 percent to the bill every month after that to bring the total to over $8,000 in interest by September.
In response to a question, Zirk told Hestetune that interest is still adding up on his bill from the supplier. However, the sales rep from GMRS told the village president that the bill had been paid in full.
Zirk confirmed it was paid and that he had taken a loan in August or July and that the interest charged the village was paying the interest on that loan.
D & Z was paying 3.5 percent interest on the bill from the supplier for the first 90 days, according to Hestetune and then it would go up to 5.5 percent. He called that a big difference from the 10 and the 20 percent per month being charged to the fire department and ultimately the village.
The interest at 3.5 percent for 90 days was calculated to be $419.99 by Hestetune, while the interest being charged the fire department by D & Z for the same time $8,399.96
“That’s $7,900 more than D & Z was being charged,” Hestetune said. “That’s one of the reasons I had to have this brought back.
“The firemen can use this money,” he continued. “The village can use this money. We owe for the pagers (radios), but I don't agree we should pay for the interest.”
Hestetune noted that after 90 days the bill from GMRS would become 5.5 percent interest.
The village president said he had “a hard time wasting that much money” meaning the almost $8,000 more Zirk was charging in interest than the supplier.
“He (Zirk) can charge whatever he wants,” the village president said. “He can take it to court. The fire department can back him.”
Hestetune got sidetracked on a related topic of the $500 limit imposed on purchases of the fire department without board approval. He noted that the former chief Randy Byl brought up that limit in conversation with him earlier Monday.
Hestetune blamed the village board for paying bills of $2,000 and $4,000 that had not been previously approved and eroding the limit needed for board approval.
“If we’d been on our toes, we wouldn't have had this problem,” the village president told the board.
Chief Clason said when he became chief he should have been informed of the $500 limit without board approval.
“I got it right out front,” said the former fire chief, Randy Byl. “I couldn’t do anything without coming to the board and begging first.”
With that, Hestetune took his case to the board.
“Board members, you heard what I had to say,” the village president stated. “How do you want to go about paying this bill?”
After some silence, village trustee Jim Helgerson spoke.
“I thought the 10 and 20 percent (interest) was ridiculous,” Helgerson said “I move we pay for the radios and five percent. That’s it. I’m just tired of the whole thing.”
Helgerson’s motion was taken to mean rescind the motion from the last meeting and pay just five percent in interest. There was not an immediate second.
The language of the motion was then modified to read rescind the previous motion to pay the bill and pay $12,599.93. Village trustee Robert Froiseth seconded the motion and Hestetune called for a roll call vote.
Froiseth, Helgerson, Hestetune, Moran and Paul Nicholson voted yes and Shayne Chapman abstained. Village trustee Roy Davidson did not attend the special board meeting.
“I would like to thank the members of the fire department who came and expressed themselves,” Hestetune said following the vote. “I hope we never have to go through anything like this again.”
There was a brief conversation with Bill Zirk about whether he wanted to stop by for the check in the morning or have it mailed to him. Zirk said he was working on Tuesday and it was agreed Soldiers Grove Village Clerk Tammy Kepler would write the check immediately.