City Attorney: Onslow Mayor Overstepped Authority in Fire Dept. Dismissal
By Brady Smith, Reporter
ONSLOW, Iowa — In September, the mayor of Onslow made a surprising decision to fire the city’s entire volunteer fire department. Mayor Curtis Thornhill fired them at a city council meeting after the firefighters’ fundraising group called the “Smoke Eaters” refused to provide records the city needed for an audit, and in turn, to secure money for a sewer project.
However, a letter from Onslow’s city attorney to the mayor said he overstepped his authority. Mayor Thornhill said on Tuesday he read that letter at Monday night’s city council meeting, and reversed his decision to fire the volunteer fire department. The letter from city attorney Jay Willems details a meeting between him and Mayor Thornhill at the end of September.
In it, Willems said that he reviewed parts of Onslow’s city code with the mayor, regarding the mayor’s power when it comes to suspending or discharging fire chief Darrin Schaefer and his department. Willems wrote that decisions like that would need to be done as a joint effort between the mayor and the city council, and that the mayor doesn’t have the power to do that alone. Willems also wrote that the mayor realized that he “perhaps exceeded the scope of his authority” in making that decision.
In an interview on Tuesday, Schaefer agreed with the city attorney that the mayor broke the rules. “There’s ordinances and rules and regulations that are set in place for everyone to follow, and everyone needs to follow them to live in harmony,” said Schaefer. “When someone does not follow those rules and regulations, this is what we have.”
Mayor Thornhill said this is about holding the fire department’s fundraising group accountable to Onslow’s citizens, and he’ll continue that fight with or without the council. “I know I’m in the process now, and I’m in a battle, of serving and protecting these citizens against an organization that would prey upon them and then thumb their nose at them, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Thornhill told us. “If I have acted outside of the scope of my authority, just as I said last night in the council meeting, I will continue to act outside the scope of my authority.”
Mayor Thornhill said the city is distancing itself from the Smoke Eaters organization as much as possible from here on out. As for the city audit, Mayor Thornhill said last month that an unfavorable rating would impact the city’s ability to overhaul its entire sewer system. However, he said Tuesday that the city’s sewer project is still on, and that he’s hoping to break ground sometime next spring.
At the very least, Onslow residents no longer need to worry about not having a volunteer fire department.
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