Fredonia officials spar over fire department workers

Call it concern for proper procedures and the people of Fredonia, call it election year posturing, or call it some of both: Whatever way you look at it, Monday’s village Board of Trustees meeting was full of disagreement.

One of the biggest points of contention involved Fredonia Fire Department hirings: Dan Aldrich as a lieutenant and the permanent appointment of Ryan Walker as fire chief. Arguments erupted over the procedures for hiring employees, whether Aldrich’s position was budgeted and the probationary periods both Aldrich and Walker have to serve after they are hired.

Trustee Douglas Essek started it off by reading a 2017 board resolution stating that trustees are supposed to know the time and place of interviews for village jobs, as well as have access to applications.

Essek said that was not followed in Aldrich’s case. Instead, “what we have right now is the information, three days before we have to vote,” he said.

Village Attorney Dan Gard replied, “the Board of Trustees was informed because (Trustee) Jim Lynden is on the board,” referring to the panel that oversees the fire department and agreed to hire Aldrich.

Mayor Athanasia Landis — whose seat Essek is seeking on Election Day this November — said to him, “You knew he was voted in.”

Essek replied, “No, I didn’t.”

Essek also disagreed with Landis and Village Treasurer Jim Sedota as to whether Aldrich’s position — a new one — was inserted into the 2019 budget. Sedota said the money for a new position was put in a line item. Essek said that since it was not specifically earmarked for the lieutenant job, it was questionable whether Fredonia had the money for the job.

“We don’t propose a new position unless we go over it with Jim, Mr. Essek,” said Landis.

“Thank you, Mrs. Landis,” Essek replied.

Joined by Trustee Roger Britz, Essek also questioned Gard’s interpretation of the probationary periods Aldrich and Walker have to serve. The trustees said they each have to serve at least 26 weeks.

Gard agreed in the case of Aldrich, but he insisted Walker only needed an eight-week probationary period because he has been the interim fire chief for 19 months. He said he had consulted with a civil service commissioner who told him a 26-week period was not necessary because of that reason. “Mr. Essek, I’m telling you you’re reading it wrong,” he said.

“Then you need to show me the law after the meeting,” Essek said. “You need to show me where the minimum is eight weeks. You can sigh or do what you want.”

Landis then accused Essek of electioneering, wondering why he had to wait until a public, televised meeting to bring up his concerns. “You could have had the documentation between Wednesday and today,” she said. “You come in here asking for additional information you should have had by now.”

Essek defended his methods and added, “Eight weeks is coincidentally a period you can’t discipline a probationary person for.”

Lynden called the whole dispute “semantics of paperwork” and questioned Essek as to why he had any problem with Walker’s hiring. “He’s doing a fine job for this community,” Lynden said.

“I’ve been in the fire service for 30 years,” Essek responded. “I know things going on at the fire station. We have a difference of opinion.”

Aldrich’s hiring, at $31.67 per hour and with the 26-week probationary period, ended up passing unanimously. Walker was also hired, with the eight weeks of probation — but Britz and Essek voted “no,” with trustees Michael Barris, Kara Christina and Lynden providing the votes for passage.