Judge rules Orono violated court order in fire department battle
A judge has found the city of Orono in contempt of court for recruiting firefighters from Long Lake and making plans to renovate a fire station that the Long Lake Fire Department still operates.
The city of Orono and the Long Lake Fire Department have been contractually bound for over 20 years. Orono has made it clear they want to sever ties with Long Lake by building their own fire department next summer.
“There’s two years left in the contract. All we’re asking for is Orono to abide by the contract and don’t breach it,” said Long Lake Mayor Charlie Miner. “Don’t take steps to impede on our ability to serve the communities we serve with our fire services.”
Orono has purchased millions of dollars in equipment and is working on plans to renovate the Navarre Fire Station located in Orono. The city also hired Long Lake’s fire chief last year.
This summer, Long Lake sued Orono. Hennepin County District Court Judge Laurie Miller ordered Orono not to interfere in the Long Lake department but in a ruling last week, the judge found Orono in contempt of court.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision. We don’t feel that they follow the actual rule of the law of hiring and we did,” said Orono Mayor Denny Walsh.
Walsh says before any order came out, the Long Lake firefighters who were hired applied for employment on their own accord.
“And state law says you cannot prevent somebody from going to work somewhere. It’s just against state law. So we’re going to stand by state law as actually the rule of the day,” said Walsh.
The court also found that Orono Mayor Denny Walsh and the fire chief used intimidation on a Long Lake firefighter to prevent him from impeding on recruiting efforts directed at Long Lake firefighters.
“That’s just false. That’s the judge just taking sides,” Walsh responded.
The court ordered Orono to pay fines of $2,000 for each Long Lake firefighter they contacted aimed at recruitment and for any instances of Orono making plans for the Navarre Fire Station without involving Long Lake.
Despite the court’s decision, the Orono City Council will be voting to hire another Long Lake firefighter during Monday’s meeting.
“We’re going to continue to move forward with the establishment of our fire department. And we do ultimately expect to prevail no litigation and have that order overturned,” said Walsh.
Miner says it’s unfortunate for firefighters who feel they must pick sides.
“Starting a new fire department and recruiting new firefighters, we believe is a mistake,” said Miner. “We feel it’s a mistake for them to do that, especially in this day and age where all cities are having a hard time getting firefighters.”