Fire chief criticized in letter to the board

FLINT TWP. — A letter from disgruntled oncall firefighters criticizing the fire chief signaled trouble flaring up in the Flint Township Fire Department, according to a discussion at the township board meeting Monday night.

The contents of the letter were not disclosed but references to it indicated concerns about the elimination of staff overtime and training and spending issues. It also voiced “no confidence” in Chief John Ringwelski.

Copies of the letter apparently were sent to all township board members.

Randolph Rice, who spoke during public comment and identified himself as president of the Michigan Association of Firefighters — Flint Township chapter, said a previous letter received no response but problems have continued. He did not read the letter but asked that a copy of it be entered in the minutes of the meeting.

Trustee Frank Kasle, in discussing two such letters received, questioned policies the township has in place for regular or annual evaluations of department heads.

“I’m not pointing fingers at the chief or anyone,” he said but stressed that he thought it prudent for the board to address the issue before it escalates because the situation between the firefighters and the chief did not look good.

Township Supervisor Karyn Miller responded she was unaware of any established evaluation procedure, but thought it was a good idea.

Miller briefly addressed some of the charges made in the letter. Regarding the overtime issue she said the chief was acting as directed by the township board. She also said station captains are in charge of training. “Do they have no confidence in the captains either?” she asked.

Miller also said there is a grievance procedure to handle such complaints and sending letters to the board is not it.

“So far the chief has done what the board has asked him to do and that’s what generated this letter,” she said.

The township currently is in court-ordered mediation with firefighters and the talks have not been progressing despite hours spent in negotiations, Miller said. After the meeting, Miller would not release a copy of the letter, saying she wanted to first consult the township’s attorney. It was unclear if a copy of the letter would be entered into the minutes.

Ringwelski was present at the meeting but did not speak. Afterwards, he said he felt blindsided by the letter, having just received a copy that afternoon before the meeting. He said three of the four charges leveled in the letter were matters beyond his control, as Miller indicated.

Ringwelski said he has the support and confidence of many of his staff. He said he constantly seeks input and suggestions for improving efficiency at regularly held meetings and appropriate formats.

He also said that anticipated millage funds coming in over a five-year period are earmarked for needed equipment purchases and not open to arbitrary spending.

Ringwelski said he has been with the department for 27 years and chief for two. The township’s three fire stations employ 14 full-time firefighters, including the assistant chief, and 38 parttime, on-call firefighters.

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