During the first in-person meeting of the Milton Joint Fire Commission since the pandemic began, city council members on the commission attended by phone and voted against going into closed session.
On the March 17 closed session agenda were Milton Joint Fire Commission and union (Local 580) negotiations and also intergovernmental agreements negotiations and contracts.
At Milton Town Hall for the meeting were town board member Beth Drew, town chairman Bryan Meyer, fire commission chairman and town board member Jon Jennings and town board member Jim Hanlon.
Attorneys present were Melissa Brooke of Joos from Collins & Henderson in Beloit, representing the commission, and Mike Hahn of Nowlan & Mouat in Janesville, representing the town of Milton.
Battalion Chief Jeremy Parker was the only member of the fire department present.
During public comments, former Milton Mayor and former firefighter Tom Chesmore voiced his displeasure with the Milton and Milton Township Fire Department consolidating with the Janesville Fire Department.
“Once Janesville gets here, there’s going to be no stopping Janesville from swallowing us up like we weren’t even there,” he said.
Chesmore asked what would be next – Janesville plowing the streets or providing police protection.
City council members attending by phone included Lynda Clark, Theresa Rusch and Bill Wilson and Larry Laehn. Clark asked for a roll call vote, starting with the approval of the agenda saying it was too difficult to hear.
She questioned why the meeting was not being held by video conference.
“We’re not having a Zoom meeting because we have closed session business to attend to and that business is best handled in person,” Jennings said.
Wilson questioned going into closed session.
He said he didn’t believe he had received enough information “to intelligently vote (to go into closed session or not) because I don’t know what it is that we’re voting on.”
Specific items of negotiation are not in final form, said Jennings, nothing the fire chief, union president and he had looked at the rough draft.
Wilson said, “I would just remind everyone that there are penalties in place for people who knowingly participate in meetings that are held in violation of the Open Meetings Law. And I believe that this is going to be a closed session that is in violation.”
“We do have two attorneys that are in disagreement,” Jennings said.
Clark said, “I didn’t realize it was necessary for us to have our attorney also at this meeting.”
She asked why closed session was necessary.
“We were always going to be transparent to the community and the department,” she said.
“Because it’s an ongoing contract of the 580. It’s not yet available for official submission, for one,” Jennings replied.
And second, he said submitting drafts for approval has been done in closed session or by attorneys.
“We’ve never discussed the MOUs (memorandums of understanding) in closed session,” Rusch said.
Jennings said, “We pretty much got the draft and approved it.”
Clark and Rusch disagreed and said there were multiple changes and drafts.
The meeting adjourned with no action taken and debate of whether the April 21 meeting would be held by video conference.