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Dave Olson, Published January 05 2011

Moorhead: No rush to hire fire chief

Moorhead will take its time finding someone to replace former Fire Chief Joel Hewitt, whose resignation was effective on Monday, City Manager Michael Redlinger said Tuesday.

Hewitt was put on paid administrative leave in August, when city officials said an internal investigation was under way into allegations of official misconduct.

Since then, a prosecutor has declined to bring charges against Hewitt following investigations by Moorhead police into a claim Hewitt shared investigative information with someone he shouldn’t have, as well as claims he solicited women for prostitution.

Hewitt resigned under an agreement with the city in which he denied all allegations made against him and the city agreed not to pursue further investigation.

Redlinger said city officials have so far discussed little about the process of finding Hewitt’s replacement; no deadline has been set.

He said merging the fire chief position with the police chief position is not being considered, something other communities in Minnesota have done.

“We will be patient,” Redlinger said, adding that the focus will be on finding someone who is a good long-term fit for the community.

Redlinger said a reorganizing of the Fire Department is a possibility, especially with cities across Minnesota facing the threat of losing additional state aid this year because of an expected $6.2 billion state budget deficit.

“Given the uncertainty about revenue, we’re going to keep all options on the table. One could include that,” Redlinger said.

Moorhead has five assistant fire chiefs, including Fire Marshal Rich Duysen.

Duysen is also serving as acting fire chief.

Moorhead is and will remain one of 10 career fire departments in Minnesota, Redlinger said, meaning it is staffed with full-time professional firefighters, not volunteers or a mix of career and volunteer firefighters.

Of the 792 fire departments in the state, most are volunteer departments, said Redlinger, who added that 36 fire departments in Minnesota have a full-time fire chief.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555