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State’s OSHA investigating Greenwood’s FD hiring

Jodi Summit
Posted 2/21/18

GREENWOOD TWP- A decision by the Town Board here last December has embroiled the township in another investigation by the state’s division of OSHA.

Jeff Maus, who state officials had earlier …

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State’s OSHA investigating Greenwood’s FD hiring

Posted

GREENWOOD TWP- A decision by the Town Board here last December has embroiled the township in another investigation by the state’s division of OSHA.

Jeff Maus, who state officials had earlier designated as a whistleblower, subject to legal protection, filed a second complaint with the agency following the board’s hiring of Mike Indihar as Assistant Fire Chief late last year. Maus had sought the position as well, and believes that the hiring decision was based on retaliatory motives.

Employees who have made complaints to OSHA on workplace safety issues are protected, under both federal and state law, from discrimination in hiring or promotions, and other work-related employment issues. The township previously settled an OSHA complaint with Maus, after Maus, who had raised concerns about safety issues in the fire department, had his captain’s position eliminated without notice. Maus retained his position as a firefighter and EMR after the settlement.

Maus said he filed his latest complaint with OSHA shortly after the township’s Dec. 12 meeting, noting that such complaints must be filed within a 30-day period. Maus said he filled out additional paperwork, and then OSHA forwarded questions to the township.

“I was pretty much told to keep my mouth shut,” he said, noting he had not discussed the issue with others in the township.

“I am not suing the township,” Maus said. “OSHA is investigating my claim of retaliation.” Any action against the township would be from OSHA, as in the previous case he filed.

Maus said his complaint is not asserting that he is more qualified for the position than the person hired, but he is questioning the process for the hiring, and whether or not his past history of questioning fire department policies and safety procedures led to the decision.

Township Chair John Bassing said that only township elected officials had been notified of the OSHA inquiry, and they had been told by the township attorney not to discuss the issue. Bassing said he had no idea how a township resident had found out about the matter, which was the subject of a recent letter to the editor in the Tower News.

The fire department had posted the assistant chief position internally, as is department policy, and two firefighters applied— Maus and Indihar.

The board took up the hiring in November. Fire Chief Dave Fazio was absent, but fire department member Howard Ankrum told the board that the department had approved the hiring of Indihar.

At December’s meeting, Chairman Bassing said he had made repeated requests to Fazio for a copy of Indihar’s application, but had only received it just prior to the meeting via the town clerk. The township had already received a copy of Maus’s application.

Bassing questioned whether Indihar was qualified for the position, because township policy requires a six-month training period before an employee is considered hired. Indihar was a long-time department member, but had retired over six years ago, and had just recently re-joined the department.

Bassing noted that Indihar had never held a leadership position in the department, but that Maus had served in leadership roles, as well as completed three of the four fire department leadership component trainings at Camp Ripley.

Maus has been an active member of the department for 11 years, and his application came with recommendations from Steven Flaherty, Executive Director of the MN Board of Firefighter Training and Education, as well as from fire chiefs from Virginia and Hibbing.

However, a motion by Bassing to hire Maus for the position quickly ran into opposition.

Supervisor Mike Ralston noted the chief has the right to appoint members to leadership positions, with town board approval. Fazio told the board he had recommended Indihar because of his long-time background with the department.

Supervisor Larry Tahija also supported Indihar, noting his active participation in the department in the past.

Supervisor Paul Skubic noted the board had previously hired Fazio to run the department, and “I feel we have to go with his recommendation.”

Bassing said there was a lot of difference in qualifications between the two candidates. But Skubic said that Indihar’s 26 years of experience “speaks for itself.”

The motion to hire Maus failed 4-1, with only Bassing voting in support.

A motion by Supervisor Carmen DeLuca to hire Indihar passed 4-1, with Bassing against.

“I think Mr. Skubic stated it right,” said DeLuca. “The chief has to work with the people. He feels he can work with Mr. Indihar and not Mr. Maus.”

The township will now be in the position of defending their hiring decision to OSHA. Since the case would be considered as a type of litigation, the board is allowed to act in private with their attorney, and any negotiations done by the township might not be made public until the board needs to take formal action.

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Hardrockminer

Thank God we have one thoughtful person on the board in Greenwood Township! Dr John Bassing tries his darndest to keep us out of trouble. Unfortunately, the other 4 board members refuse to follow MAT laws, state laws, their own personnel polices, and the advice of the Township attorney. Jeff’s OSHA suit is righteous and timely. Due to the actions of an out of control fire department, taxpayers will pay the 10k insurance deductible to be forced to do the right thing. The fire ‘chief’ says he performs background checks for FREE online! The fire department does have an employer. They work for us, under the direction of the board. Unfortunately, 4 board members have given the chief unlimited control. Time for the board to be responsible, unbiased adults. Force the department to follow the Standard Operating Guidelines and personnel policies that they helped develop! The chief has refused to implement logs, as directed by the board for all Township equipment out of defiance. That is insubordination and should be recorded in his personnel file. Employees that are insubordinate should be fired.

Saturday, February 24