LANSING, Mich. — On Monday, February 17, 2020, there was a special meeting called for NIESA at the NIESA headquarters in Williamston. NIESA stands for Northeast Ingham Emergency Service Authority. The agency provides fire suppression, life safety, emergency medical services (ambulance/paramedics), and rescue services to the residents and visitors of Northeast Ingham County through the Williamston and Leroy Township Fire Departments, as well as NIESA EMS. This includes the City of Williamston, the Village of Webberville, as well as Leroy, Williamstown, Wheatfield, and Locke Townships.
The special meeting, which was attended by a packed room of about 30, was called as a response to 13 members of NIESA submitting letters of resignation after the last official meeting of the board when a vote was taken to table a decision about whether or not to hire a Deputy Chief for NIESA.
Initially, members of the audience were concerned with the lack of transparency of this meeting as no public notice was placed online and instead, only a flyer was placed on the door of the NIESA station. John Bisard, a resident of Williamston and past employee of NIESA, explained that he felt it was “absurd that the meeting was not on the NIESA website, but also that the special meeting was on a NIESA recognized holiday.”
Dave Worth, another resident of the NIESA district asked whether or not the position was publicly posted. He was informed that in alignment with past practice within NIESA , the position was posted internally only.
Frans Wilbrink, chair of the NIESA board, shared comments about the importance of NIESA and the urgency of the issue at hand with the resignation of the 13 employees. He explained that NIESA has grown over the years necessitating more full-time staff to keep the station in compliance with standards. Willbrink explained that Mr. Mike Yance, Director of NIESA, asked for assistance to be able to align the two stations within NIESA. “We need someone to help manage people, help us get compliant, write grants and more. In the future we may even need more staff to help us be a great department.”
Mr. Mike Yance took quite a bit of time to share some of the challenges and successes that NIESA has had over the last year or so.
As he explained, there have been a number of challenges in the past within NIESA including: a lack of consistency in practices between both fire stations; equipment not being maintained; a lack of consistent procedures between stations; negative attitudes among staff; incomplete billing practices; a lack of trust between staff among other things.
Yance also shared that though there have been challenges, they have made progress toward fixing these challenges such as: Improving the quality and variety of training and having more in-house certified instructors; having staff become more familiar with equipment at both stations by having staff alternate where they are working; setting up procedures for equipment use and care; billing non-residents for highway calls and fully billing insurance for resident calls; staying consistent with keeping vehicles and equipment in compliance; increasing community involvement through grants and other outreach and more.
Jeffrey Weiss, representative for the City of Williamston, raised concerns about the process by which the board was sanctioning the hiring of the new position. Weiss stated that, in his opinion, “the process needs to be transparent, and financially sound.” He stated that the Treasurer for NIESA, Rusty Ackerman, shared that he did not feel that there was enough budget to afford this position and that instead it would necessitate the passing of the millage increase in November 2020. This opinion was not agreed upon by a number of other board members.
Both community members and at least one board member raised concerns about the thought that leadership issues that exist currently within NIESA will be fixed through the hiring of a new leader. At the previous board meeting, the motion to approve the position was tabled until March. Jeffrey Weiss raised concerns about rushing to hire a director in response to staff resignations. The answer to this question was a motion to approve the job description and to allow the NIESA director to move forward with hiring for the new position. The vote to approve this position passed 4-2 with the following townships voting in the following way:
City of Williamston – No
Wheatfield – Yes
Williamstown – Yes
Leroy – No
Webberville – Not Present
Member at Large - Yes
This meeting was a clear example of how important it is for the public to stay involved and informed with public entities such as NIESA. If you would like to attend the next meeting of NIESA, check out all of the posted meeting times and days. (http://www.niesa.org/admin/information/public_notice.html)
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