Special meeting held Sunday on fire issues

City extends rural fire, ambulance agreements


ide rural fire and ambulance service.”

That was the comment West Liberty Mayor Robert Hartman made Sunday night at a special 24-hour notice meeting of the West Liberty City Council held at the West Liberty Public Library concerning an issue with the rural and city districts to provide ambulance and fire fighting services. “Our assumption wasn’t to terminate services,” the mayor said.

The council voted 4-1 to extend a the 28E agreement and a pair of resolutions with the districts through Sept. 30 after the council went into closed session for nearly a half hour. Jose Zacarias was the only council member to vote against.

West Liberty attorney Bill Tharp, representing the local fire districts, was allowed two minutes to speak at the meeting, although his talk extended into a few additional minutes, eventually cut off by the mayor again at the meeting after being shut down Tuesday, April 20, at a regular city council meeting.

“I don’t understand what you are doing,” Tharp said, noting shutting off service to rural areas “is against your own interest.”

He said the city has had agreements since 1975 with the rural districts that include two Cedar County townships, four townships in Muscatine County and another in Johnson County. He said by sending notice of termination to the townships, “you have to blow up the partnership,” calling it similar to a divorce.

He said terminating the agreements would be a “huge undertaking” and waste of city tax dollars spent on legal fees as well as loss of time. “The city, as a partner, has said ‘we want a divorce,’” Tharp said.

The attorney said he is knowledgible of this type of legal process and told the council “I don’t think this is what you want to do.”

The city had proposed extending the agreement through Aug. 21 as well, but decided to add more time to work through the situation.

Tharp said there is a long history of agreements with the city utilizing equipment, facilities and personnel from the rural and city fire districts, dating back to the mid 1900's when neighbors helped fight fires. By 1975, there was an understanding that it would be better to work together to offer public services.

Lee Geertz, the West Liberty City Clerk, said she was “on vacation” at the time the meeting was called and said city officials failed to notify the press, but did say that calling a special meeting by giving 24 hours notice was legal.

Tharp said he was notified by an electronic message about the meeting and said it was fortunate a number of other rural fire district officials picked up on the special meeting. He said although the city can legally set up a special meeting, it is typically for emergency situations like a tornado, derecho or flood and not a public issue.

The city and local fire district officials have been meeting since Feb. 11 with the understanding the current service agreements were set to expire on June 30.

In a city statement published April 15 in the Index, "the mayor nor the city council has never communicated the intent to end the rural relationship or service to the rural communities. On the contrary, the communications provided on several occasions has ben the intent to update the service agreement for compliance purposes and continue the efforts to strengthen the emergency services for the West Liberty and rural communities."