City selects mediator to resolve fire dispute
A mediator who will help members of the Tonganoxie Fire Department resolve their differences says he's eager to go to work.
On Monday, city council members, on a 3-0 vote, agreed to ask Lawrence resident Craig Cochran of Cochran and Associates to mediate differences between firefighters and Chief Charlie Conrad. Two council members, Emmett Wetta and Pat Albert, abstained from voting because they are members of the fire department.
"We're going to start immediately," Cochran said Tuesday afternoon.
"Everyone who's involved will have an equal voice."
Cochran, who has been a mediator for about 10 years, said he hopes his work will have a positive outcome.
"Problems are often framed as totally negative, and that doesn't have to be the case at all," he said. "Problems offer opportunities to learn and to grow, both on a personal and organizational level. I don't have a side in the matter. My role is to help the parties involved to think this through and maybe be able to see things they didn't see before or in a light they hadn't seen before. That would be true for all sides involved."
Communication will be key, he said. He said he thinks all members of the department and the chief must be listened to and all must listen to one another.
"We're not looking for a compromise," he said. "We're not looking for anybody to win or lose. We're looking for a win-win solution."
Because of concerns about the department, 10 firefighters sent a letter to the chief in late December asking for his resignation. Some of the concerns they cited centered on the department budget, morale, training and the department's relationship with other area fire departments.
Conrad said he has no intention of resigning. For several weeks, Mayor John Franiuk and other city council members heard from firefighters and Conrad.
On Monday, they decided to seek an outside, impartial facilitator. Cochran will not be paid.
"If he's successful and council finds it in its heart to reward him, he'll accept that," Franiuk said.
Council President Janet Angell said she sees the fire department as a family.
"There comes a time in every family when you need someone to step in," she said. "I think it can be straightened out."
And council member Steve Gumm said he's eager for a resolution to the problems.
"Whatever it takes," he said. "Something has to get worked out. That's all there is to it."