By Chad Koenen
Several current and former members of the Henning Ambulance Service offered support for director Jane Cook during last week’s Henning City Council meeting.
Cook was the center of two agenda items that stated there would be a closed session for preliminary consideration of allegations or charges against and individual subject to the council authority, as well as a possible open session for a decision related to consideration of allegations or charges against an individual subject to council authority.
Cook, who has served as the director of the Henning Ambulance Service for a number of years, opted to keep the meetings open to the public, according to state statues.
A list of allegations were brought forth by councilman Jim Haberer, who said some of the concerns that were made to him included training, scheduling of personnel, accountability of people’s response times and crew complaints of people not getting along. Another concern revolved around looking into making the department a part-time ALS service.
“We are still squabbling with part-time ALS. You have people that don’t want to do this and some that do,” said Haberer. “You did a roll-call vote, and you had a 50/50 division between your crew is what I think you had told me. I would have thought that would have set off a red flag that there is something not quite right.”
Henning Mayor Darren Wiese stopped Haberer and said the Henning community is divided right now. Instead of asking what Cook is doing wrong, he said maybe the council should be asking what she is doing right for the other 50 percent.
“I just have to interrupt you on that. We have a 50/50 split on our town. When are we going to start asking the question of what are we doing right, just as well as what is she doing wrong,” said Wiese.
Haberer said he discussed the allegations with Cook prior to the meeting, “as a friend and not as a council member that there were concerns about what was happening.”
Cook contended the meeting with Haberer went differently than that.
“Jim you came to me and you said you were coming to me as a friend, that part is true, you said you were putting your council hat aside. You asked me to resign as being director of the ambulance to avoid being terminated,” she said. “You also threatened me by saying I would lose my pension and there could be attorneys involved.”
Haberer said he did not ask for Cook to resign as ambulance director. Later in the meeting, when asked by the city attorney if he asked Cook to resign as the director, Haberer again said he did not make such a request.
“No I did not, because I can’t make a decision like that. That is a council decision, so why would I say that in that way,” he said.
Cook read a statement that reaffirmed her accusation that Haberer asked her to resign as Henning Ambulance Service Director. It also detailed her account of a July meeting between the two. Among the concerns she said Haberer raised revolved around a slow response time by a crew member, requests for other trainers to be used and the billing company the service utilizes. Cook said she replied that each of these issues have been addressed, or answered the questions, and was wondering what she did to be asked to turn in her resignation.
“The immediate effect of this meeting (was) it totally ruined the rest of my day. That evening I had to relive it over again when telling my husband. In the days since then there has been a wide range of emotions, emotional stress and sleepless nights. One thought that I have had is (was) he acting alone, or are other members of the council part of this,” she asked. “Another thought I had was is this proper protocol? Would this be followed to the police department or the fire department or the utility department? Would they get threatened with a loss of a pension? I don’t believe that you can take my pension away, so that just makes it a blank threat. Why should anybody be subject to that, not just me, but anybody in this room, no matter what your job is.”
Throughout a better-than one hour discussion, the council also heard from several current and former ambulance service members who spoke in support of the job Cook has done as director.
Former Henning Utilities Manager Scott Grabe said he served on the department for a number of years, and there were times when people didn’t get along. He also questioned the validity of the unnamed accusations.
“The people that have brought things forward, has anybody documented and then put their stamp on it, because otherwise it seems like it is baseless. It’s easy to make a phone call to somebody and say Jim this is my concern about your service, but if they don’t say I am sending an email, or I am sending you a letter with my signature on it; to me it is baseless. Nobody knows what motives they might have for doing something like that,” he said.
Chelsea Waskosky, who has taken over much of the training for the ambulance department, said she has enjoyed her time on the ambulance service. Since joining the ambulance service she became a paramedic and had some training ideas when she talked to previous ambulance director Bob Reinbold about updating some of the training material.
“I said, you know what, I see room for improvement and I think I can make that happen,” said Waskosky. “I want to bring us together as a group so that we are more consistent and that has been my goal, but if not everyone makes it to training meetings, how do you get consistent if half the people don’t show up?”
Waskosky taught her first EMT class last year and had all five of her students pass. She said she understands there are different learning styles, which is why she tries to bring in other trainers to help give a different perspective as well.
“When it came time for my EMTs to test out I had five of them going for the EMT and all five passed at the minimum amount of questions. I’m sorry I think that says something,” she said, “We had two struggling to pass, I helped them with remedial training and they passed the very next go.”
Grabe said not having enough members pass the EMT tests has been an issue in the past for the ambulance service. He said the fact Waskosky was able to have all five people pass the class is a credit to her hard work as an instructor.
“I think Chelsea down played the five for five, because I think there was a class shortly before I left that was, I think, one for five that passed. That was always one of the struggles the last few years, we had several people go through, most probably took it, the ones who got on, probably took it more than once,” said Grabe. “To get five for five that is a pretty high mark.”
Fosse, who abstained from voting due to her position on the ambulance service, said she shared some of the concerns she has received with Cook. However, she eventually started passing on the concerns to Haberer since she also serves as an EMT on the department. She said it got to a point where the two council members wanted to make the entire council aware of some of the concerns they have heard about the ambulance service.
“My concern, right now for this group, is I think inaccurate tension and inaccurate misunderstandings, maybe, have happened,” she said.
Fosse contended that at the last meeting she asked for the proper protocols to address concerns brought to her about a city employee.
“This meeting was to inform the council of concerns that had been brought up and decide if anything was going to be looked into,” she said.
Councilman Wes Johnson said he hasn’t received any complaints or heard of concerns about the ambulance service, and asked Scott Hart and Wiese whether they have received complaints about the ambulance service. Neither vocally stated they had received a complaint.
As far as why the information wasn’t in writing at the meeting, Fosse said the city attorney told her the concerns didn’t need to be in writing as it was up to the council to decide if they wanted to look into the allegations further. During the meeting none of the concerns were provided in writing.
Nonetheless, Grabe said there wasn’t a paramedic or EMT that he wouldn’t feel comfortable responding to a call with during his time on the department.
“I’m just disappointed. I just always thought there was a lot of integrity on the ambulance crew. As I said before, not everyone got along very well, but through every single year I was on there…there was different conflicts and different groups had different opinions on things, but the integrity always held,” said Grabe.
Cook said she felt attacked by the accusations and didn’t want what happened to her to happen to another person in the community.
“When professional protocol is not followed it is easy for a superior to single out a person and target them for attack,” she said. “Things get made up, threats and unfounded accusations and intimidation tactics are tried. I experienced all of these. I am sorry to have to bring this to you as a council, but I don’t want this to happen to any other human being doing their best to serve the community, including the many volunteers who make this city work. If this council does not have a protocol in place, I suggest you get one. If it already exists please send it to me via email so I can understand why it happened to me. There was a lot of unnecessary emotional stress put on me and my family in the last two weeks. If professional protocol was violated, I feel I have an apology coming from Jim, who was responsible.”
Haberer apologized again to Cook.
“I will definitely apologize to you,” he said. “I never meant anything you are saying I said in any fashion.”
City attorney Josh Heggem said he didn’t think there was anything wrong with council members speaking with employees and volunteers about concerns that have been raised. However, it comes down to the details of what was said during the conversation.
“I think it is perfectly fine for somebody to inform an employee there will be a closed session about that,” he said, but continued that threats can’t be made during that conversation. “It comes down to the details about that was said and what wasn’t said and you have two people telling two different stories about what was said.”
On a 4-0 vote, with Fosse abstaining, the council approved dropping the allegations brought forth at the meeting against Cook.