Community Rallies Behind long-serving Patzer
By Don Norman/Diane Dubé
Community members from the RM of Victoria beach are up in arms over the recent termination of the municipality’s long-serving Fire Chief, Brad Patzer.
On Tuesday, April 17, the council passed a resolution 4-1 in favour of terminating Patzer.
The next day, members of the Victoria Beach Fire Department and Medical First responders, released a response detailing an emergency meeting that they had earlier in the day. “The members of the Victoria Beach Fire Department/Medical First Responders called an emergency meeting this morning to discuss the events and decide on a plan to move forward,” the release stated. It also noted that Reeve Brian Hodgson and CAO Andrew Glassco attended the meeting and that Hodgson said that the reason for termination was lack of communication. However, the statement said, “Chief Patzer had put forth a request to meet with council to address the issue months ago. Council did not agree to his request. Instead, Council and CAO Glassco’s decision was to terminate Cheif Patzer from his roles.”
“The council and CAO Glassco have put our entire department in a very difficult position,” the release continued. “We feel the level of disrespect shown to our chief, officers and entire team is appalling. We have been blindsided by the sudden removal of leadership from our organization without the courtesy of consulting our members.”
The statement went on to note that they expected Council to revaluate their decision with the implication that they may walk off the job if he wasn’t reinstated.
On April 20th, the RM of Victoria released a statement signed by the Reeve that outlined their position. . “This was not an action that we wanted to take, but it became necessary,” the release read. “For several months Mr. Patzer refused to communicate with the RM in the manner expected of an employee tasked with multiple and significant responsibilities. We attempted on several occasions to reach out to Mr. Patzer to try and resolve these difficulties, including an attempt at mediation with a respected outside party and the Reeve. These efforts were rebuffed, or simply ignored by Mr. Patzer.”
“This ongoing refusal to communicate and cooperate with the RM was not acceptable. This behaviour placed the RM at increased risk of liability and was not proper or acceptable in an employee/employer relationship.”
On Facebook the community message boards were full of residents voicing their support for Patzer. A Facebook group was started called “Reinstate Brad Patzer as Fire Chief.” And a public meeting and demonstration was organized to call attention to the issue.
Hundreds of people literally came out in support of the Victoria Beach Fire Department Rally to protest the firing of their Fire Chief Brad Patzer. For a community that does not relish being in the limelight, they got national coverage as well resulting from the coverage by Manitoba’s three networks.
This reporter pulled over on PTH # 11 as the Fire Dept. trucks were responding to a brush fire which resulted in the rally being a little late. Deputy Chief Wolf Kraft addressed the crowd assembled there and read out their press release to inform the public about the chain of events that resulted in the R.M. of Victoria Beach firing of their Fire Chief. There were commendations from the group that have served under Brad Patzer for some 30 years. They were astonished when they first read the R.M. statement about Patzer’s non-communication. To their knowledge, the chief had expressed his dissatisfaction to CAO Andrew Glassco about the manner in which the Public Works foreman had been demoted and replaced by a new Public Works Manager. Wolf Kraft went on to say that he had had discussions with Reeve Hodgson as early as 11:10 that morning to hear that maybe council had acted too quickly in their decision and would reconsider. He then asked the Reeve to forward that in writing only to receive an e-mail 20 minutes later which stated that council would not change their decision.
The firefighters did arrive from having successfully put out that fire to a cheering crowd. Former Reeve Tom Farrell was asked to speak about the situation at hand. He indicated that since he had stepped down in 2014 that he had not publicly spoken about any of the new council’s decision making but felt that he had to now. He encouraged ratepayers to call their elected officials, their MLA Wayne Ewasko, the Minister for Municipal Relations, the Municipal Board and the Premier’ s office and as this was crucial as an essential service might be removed from the community if the firefighters decided to walk away in support of Brad Patzer.
The Victoria Beach firefighters have since backed down from their threat to walk off the job until after the next council meeting (on Tuesday May 1). Where they still hope to appeal to council to reconsider their decision. However, that seems unlikely based on Hodgson’s statement that was released on the Victoria Beach web site on April 25. “With respect to Mr. Patzer’s termination, this is a human resources matter and so we are limited in the comments we can make,” said Hodgson. “We can state that Mr. Patzer’s employment was terminated on a for cause basis. It was only as last resort that this decision was made after involving third party mediation and other efforts to try to resolve the matters that lead to his termination.”
He said that Delivering fire, rescue and EMS services remained an important priority and that if volunteers decide they do not wish to continue to provide these important services the RM has made arrangements with neighboring municipalities. “We have been in contact with the Interlake – Eastman Regional Health Authority, and the provincial E-911 centre. If required they will be notified at the appropriate time to ensure continued emergency response services to our Community. The RM has also been in contact with the Office of the Fire Commissioner.”
Hodgson continued, “the RM of Victoria Beach values the dedicated services that our Fire and EMS response personnel provide and we sincerely hope that those services will continue to be provided by our long time volunteers.”
On Tuesday April 24, Michael Lauze (who has been the de-facto spokesperson on social media for the “reinstate Patzer” side) and a volunteer firefighter from the Victoria Beach Fire Department petitioned the RM of Alexander to do something to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again. Lauze stated that cottagers were worried about their insuarance premiums rising. One suggestion was that the RM purchase 50% of the Victoria Beach Fire Department. The RM of Alexander discussed these concerns in-camera and decided to ask the Vic Beach council to meet with them prior to their next meeting.