MOORHEAD — In late May, Moorhead Fire Chief Rich Duysen said he was stepping away from his post while remaining employed with the city until the end of the year, when he plans to retire.
At the time, Duysen declined to say whether any issues within the department played a role in the timing of his departure as chief.
Recently, however, Duysen shared that a matter involving a high-ranking fire official and other staff friction played a role in his decision.
Duysen's candor came in the wake of a public records request that The Forum made to the city, which brought to light an agreement reached in March between the city and fire department official Richard Eggert.
The agreement allowed Eggert to voluntarily demote himself from the rank of battalion chief to the rank of firefighter while maintaining the $103,624 salary he was paid as a battalion chief.
According to language contained in the agreement, at some point prior to March the city notified Eggert that it intended to demote him from battalion chief to a firefighter position.
Eggert, a military veteran, responded by asking for a hearing on the matter, which he was entitled to under Minnesota's Veterans Preference Act.
Following Eggert's request for a hearing, the city and Eggert decided both parties would best be served if Eggert voluntarily demoted himself from battalion chief to firefighter, according to the wording of the agreement.
The agreement stressed that because Eggert's action was voluntary "it is not nor can it be construed to be a disciplinary action under law, contract, policy, or the like."
It isn't clear what Eggert's pay would have been had his demotion been involuntary. The top pay for a longtime firefighter in Moorhead is about $74,000. Eggert declined to comment for this story.
Duysen stated in May that he had always planned to retire at the end of the year, by which time he will have turned 55.
However, at the time he declined to say whether his decision to step away from the job of fire chief in June was tied to any specific issue or issues.
When asked recently about the agreement between Eggert and the city, Duysen declined to talk about the situation in specifics, but he said that matter and other friction arising from department staff changes were factors in his decision to step aside.
Duysen said he believes moves he made as chief, though not always well received by some, were the right ones, but he felt leaving the chief post would help the organization move forward.
"There are a lot of quality people there that deserve to have a very positive work environment. That job is stressful enough without all the distractors," Duysen said.
City Manager Dan Mahli said he could not discuss the agreement in detail, but explained it was one outcome of a recent organizational assessment that looked into the overall health of the fire department.
"Generally, if there is a problem we're going to address it and we're going to be honest about it," Mahli said, adding that the review of the fire department's work culture included conversations between city officials and about 30 people in the department.
Eggert's employment history with the city shows that he was hired as a firefighter in 1992 and became a lieutenant in 1999.
He was named an assistant fire chief in 2010 and a battalion chief in January, when the job of assistant fire chief was renamed.
Eggert became a firefighter again on March 23, after he and city officials signed the agreement changing his status.
According to city records, Eggert received an oral reprimand from Duysen in 2017.
The records state Eggert, an assistant fire chief at the time, was involved in a disagreement with someone that escalated into a conflict, during which Eggert "engaged in an angry outburst, including yelling, swearing, and making provoking gestures."
Records provided by the city also say Eggert made statements that a reasonable person would consider "intimating and/or threatening."
The reprimand Eggert received warned him not to violate city and fire department conduct policies in the future, or it could result in disciplinary action "up to and including discharge."
In addition to the incident that gave rise to the disciplinary action in 2017, city records indicate three other complaints were filed against Eggert during his years with the fire department.
In each of those three cases, city records indicate investigations were completed and the complaints were disposed of with no disciplinary action being taken.