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Watson, Minn., negotiates fire protection services from the city of Montevideo

WATSON -- Montevideo is willing to provide fire protection services to the City of Watson, which is looking to end a troubled relationship with its independently organized fire department.

Representatives from Watson and Montevideo are meeting today to work out an agreement after the city councils in both communities gave the go-ahead to do so. Any agreement would be subject to final ratification by the two city councils.

The Milan Volunteer Fire Department is currently providing fire protection services for Watson under a three-month agreement.

The Watson City Council on May 8 voted 3-2 to pursue an agreement with Montevideo and end its relationship with the Watson Community Firefighters.

The decision came one day after the state fire marshal called the city of Watson and questioned the status of Watson Fire Chief Daniel Amor, 47, of Montevideo. Amor has a 2010 conviction in Kandiyohi County for second-degree criminal conduct and a 1999 conviction in Swift County for fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. He is currently serving a 25-year probation sentence for the Kandiyohi County conviction.

Armor declined comment for this article, and referred questions to the assistant chief. The Tribune was unable to reach him.

The troubled relationship between the city and its firefighters began well before the fire chief's criminal history was brought to the council's attention. The Watson firefighters broke away from the city in 1993 and formed their own non-profit corporation.

The city of Watson signed a 25-year contract for fire protection with the Upper Minnesota Valley Firefighters -- subsequently known as Watson Community Firefighters.

In more recent years, the city and Watson Community Firefighters have reached annual contract agreements while the firefighters continued to bind the city to the 25-year agreement, according to information from the city.

Negotiations for a new agreement were held April 20, when Amor met with Watson Mayor Joseph Rongstad and City Clerk Susan Brickweg. Different options were discussed. The city claimed that Amor failed to bring back a response to the negotiations to meet a May 8 deadline for a new contract.

The city also obtained a legal opinion from City Attorney Troy Gilchrist in March that it could not be held to the original, 25-year contract. The original agreement was with the Upper Minnesota Valley Firefighters, but there is no record with the Minnesota Secretary of State's office that the group was ever incorporated.

Also, the attorney advised the council that actions by the Watson Community Firefighters to approve one-year agreements "served to supplant and replace the original 25-year contract."

The city's most-recent contract with Watson Community Firefighters carried a $10,982.50 annual cost. The city believes it will realize a significant savings by contracting with the city of Montevideo, according to the City Clerk Brickweg. Montevideo is expected to assess Watson for fire services on the same basis as it does service extended to townships.

Montevideo and Watson are six miles apart. The city of Watson believes response times to calls will not suffer. There have previously been cases where Montevideo firefighters reached the scene prior to Watson Community Firefighters, according to the city clerk.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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