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Posted on: November 13, 2019

Settlement reached in City of Spearfish v. Spearfish Volunteer Firefighters’ Association lawsuit

Joint media release from City of Spearfish and Spearfish Volunteer Firefighter’s Association:

Settlement reached in City of Spearfish v. Spearfish Volunteer Firefighters’ Association lawsuit

City, volunteers look forward to future collaboration, building of training facility

SPEARFISH, S.D. (November 12, 2019) – After much diligent work to find a common solution that best serves all residents of the Spearfish Fire Protection District, the City of Spearfish and the Spearfish Volunteer Firefighters’ Association are excited to announce that they will sign a settlement agreement today that effectively dismisses all pending litigation that began in January 2018.

“Having the Association and the City working as one is a big win for the community, and we are excited about what this means for the future,” Glen Lewis, Spearfish Volunteer Firefighters’ Association president, said.

“I am very thankful to be here at this place with the volunteers,” Mayor Dana Boke said, acknowledging that the process has involved difficult and challenging times for all of the entities involved. “I’d like to commend the volunteers and the public safety leadership team for maintaining a strong foundation to continue the high level of service expected by the community, staying committed to the process, and holding to the vision for the future.”

The settlement agreement addresses issues related to deferred compensation, ownership of historic artifacts, ownership of vehicles and equipment, South Dakota Community Foundation endowment funding, and a funding partnership between both entities to pursue the development of a fire training facility.

Highlights of this agreement are:

  • Artifacts: Historic artifacts will be transferred to the ownership of the Association to be held in trust for the public.
  • Vehicles, apparatus, and equipment: All vehicles, apparatus, and equipment will be owned by the City, with the exception of a grill trailer, fire education trailer, Engine 9, and the historic artifacts.
  • South Dakota Community Foundation endowment: The Association will be the beneficiary of the endowment as long as it is eligible to receive it; the City will be the contingent beneficiary; and there will be amendments added to require the endowment funds to be used within the Spearfish Fire Protection District.
  • Training facility: The Association will transfer $337,000 to an investment account mutually-agreed upon by the City and the Association for no more than seven years, during which the parties will work together to find additional funding sources for said facility. If the training facility does not come to fruition after seven years, the funds would be put toward a piece of equipment/apparatus, of the Association’s choosing, from a list provided by the City.

“The firefighters in the area have had a longstanding tradition of training excellence dating back for decades,” Lewis said. “When Spearfish firefighter Murph Anthony created his 40-hour training course in the 70s, it was really unheard of at the time and was a precursor to the training all South Dakota firefighters now go through. The desire to keep that level of training and excellence going has been passed down to the following generations of firefighters since then. Discussions of building an advanced training facility here were started in the 90s, and that was one of the reasons that the Association made the decision to not spend all of the proceeds of the fundraising efforts and instead invest what we could to plan for the future. By partnering with the city, we can leverage what we already have to build something that we would not be able to do by ourselves. We really have the opportunity to do something in our community that very few places could.”

“We’re excited to explore the feasibility of a training facility,” Spearfish Fire Chief Scott Deaver said. “This is all geared toward making the Spearfish Fire Department the premier fire department.”

Through the Spearfish Fire Department, both organizations are excited to continue to provide the excellent fire protection services for the community and fire protection district that have been in place since 1881.

The settlement follows the City’s filing of a declaratory judgment action in January 2018 against the Association and South Dakota Community Foundation. The city asked for a judgment of the court to: declare the legal status and tax exempt status of the Association and the legal relationship between the Association and the City; order the Association to complete the audit required by its status as a fiscal component unit of the City; declare the rights, status, and legal relations between the parties as it concerns assets currently or formerly in possession of the Foundation or Association; and provide an inventory and accounting all funds and assets in the association’s possession provided by or belonging to Spearfish.

The Association then filed a counterclaim and third-party complaint against the city and then-Fire Chief Mark Sachara, alleging Fourth Amendment violations of unreasonable search and seizure, Fourteenth Amendment violation of deprivation of property without due process, conversion, and unjust enrichment pertaining to firefighting equipment and assets used by the Spearfish Fire Department.

“We have made vast improvements in department communications, the command structure, and the overall organizational culture in the Spearfish Fire Department since moving to a Department of Public Safety model for the City of Spearfish several months ago,” Public Safety Director Pat Rotert said. “This was accomplished with a collaborative buy-in from everyone involved, but most importantly, the volunteer firefighters. I am excited about this agreement; it opens up many new aspects to continue to improve on the public safety products we are able to deliver to all of our customers. I would like to thank all of the city staff and association members that put in the hard work to pave the way for this agreement.”

“The future looks extremely bright,” Deaver said.

See the settlement here.

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