Posts Tagged Eric Habercoss

Tri-State FPD news

Excerpts from the

The Tri-State Fire Protection District has been busy. In the past five months, the district has gotten two new fire engines, passed a referendum to extend its boundaries, negotiated a new contract with its firefighters, and hired five new firefighters.

The district is in the process of hiring a sixth firefighter, which will bring the district up to full staff for firefighters and paramedics, said acting fire chief Patrick Brenn.

Don Bulat, Tri-State firefighter and president of Tri-State Firefighter’s Local 3165, said the district had been short staffed for at least three years and had to pay its firefighters overtime to cover extra shifts.

The district administration and the firefighters also settled at least eight grievances and lawsuits over various issues, including promotion criteria, sick leave, and negotiations for a new contract, said Eric Habercoss, president of the Tri-State Board of Trustees. The last contract expired in 2012. Prior to his election to the board last year, the district had charged the firefighters were not negotiating in good faith.

Bulat said the previous board and the fire chief handpicked the deputy chiefs, without testing applicants first. The new contract, which is retroactive to June 1, 2012 and runs until May 31, 2017, requires testing for candidates for deputy fire chief, along with lieutenants, and battalion chiefs. The person hired must come from the rank below in the Tri-State district.

According to the agreement approved in December, firefighters received annual raises of 2.75 percent from June 2012 through May 31, 2016. In the final year of the contract, from June 2016 through May 2017, salaries will increase by 2 percent.

For the first seven years of their career, firefighters receive raises based on grades, in addition to annual salary increases. For example, the salary of a beginning firefighter hired this year would be $53,824, according to the contract. After successfully completing one year, the salary would rise to $59,433, plus the 2 percent increase in the contract for next year, which would raise the annual salary for a second year firefighter to $60,621 next year.

Bulat attributes the resolution of the contract and the grievances to the change in leadership. “It was a huge change when we changed administration.”

All three members of the board are new, replacing trustees who resigned or lost their bid for re-election in 2015.

And in November, Jack Mancione retired as fire chief with 18 months left on his contract. Brenn was named acting fire chief, until someone is hired for the post permanently. “Ending all the labor disputes was good for morale,” Brenn said. It saves legal fees, too.

The district’s finances also will be enhanced by the addition of Willow Springs. Tri-State’s three-year contract with Willow Springs to provide fire protection to the village for $575,000 a year, was set to expire in October. The district was not interested in renewing that contract. In March, Willow Springs voters approved a referendum to join the Tri-State Fire Protection District and pay property taxes to the district. Tri-State officials estimate the district will receive between $1.1 million and $1.2 million in yearly property tax revenue from Willow Springs.


With the addition of two engines, the district is improving its firefighting capability. They bought one and leased the other. The engines were demonstrators, which allowed Tri-State to get them for a lower price and with less advance notice than if they had to be built from scratch. One went into service Monday, the other is expected to be ready the week of April 25.

The units replaced a 16-year-old engine and two mini-squads. The new engines carry four times as much hose as the mini-squads and more than twice as much water. They also have greater pumping capacity.

thanks Dan

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BGA has more to say about the Tri-State FPD

Excerpts from the Investigator’s Blog:

New board leadership recently took the helm at the embattled Tri-State Fire Protection District – but not without problems.

A newly elected trustee who ran on a campaign of reform is raising concerns about transparency and accountability within the west suburban district, one of the largest agencies of its kind in the state.

Back in April’s election, Eric Habercoss unseated longtime Tri-State trustee Jill Strenzel, who for years had been voting on the salary and benefits of her civil union partner, former Tri-State Fire Chief Michelle Gibson. (Gibson exited the district last year, taking with her a retirement package worth more than $136,000 – a deal that was also approved by Strenzel.)

Shortly after the election, another longtime trustee, Hamilton “Bo” Gibbons, resigned, saying it was “time for a change.”

To replace him, the board called for a special meeting on May 13 and appointed Bob Jewell, who was president of Tri-State’s board of commissioners, which handles the hiring and testing of rank-and-file employees. (That’s as opposed to the Tri-State board of trustees, which oversees district finances.)

The move irked Habercoss, who felt the board rushed the process to make a decision before he was to take office on May 18.

“I’m being sworn in Monday. This appointment could have been made then,” Habercoss said during the public comment portion of the special meeting. “However, the process was forced through to keep me from participating.”

Jewell and Strenzel could not be immediately reached while Trustee Mike Orrico declined to publicly comment.

Later, on May 18, at his first official meeting as a trustee, Habercoss outlined a number of his additional concerns with the district, including the transparency surrounding a recent ambulance purchase and access to public records.

Tri-State Fire Chief Jack Mancione said the district has never been “as transparent as it is now” and that he’s looking forward to moving on from the district’s past controversies.

But Habercoss said he’s seeing a lot of the same problems that were apparent under the old regime.

In one recent, and somewhat familiar, incident, the police became involved – again – in a matter having to do with Tri-State’s closed-session meeting tapes.

It started when Strenzel, prior to leaving office, hadn’t turned in her key to the district safe that contains tapes and other records.

Then, on May 20, Habercoss contacted the police after he learned the safe had been opened while Strenzel and Mancione took an inventory of what was inside, according to a police report.

“My concern is that two civilians without any trustee present had access to private and confidential closed-session tapes, which may very well pertain to them,” Habercoss said.

Meetings can be closed off to the public when trustees discuss certain sensitive information such as litigation and personnel matters, but those sessions are recorded.

Mancione said there had been no wrongdoing.

“It was as simple as that. We opened the door, I confirmed her key worked and confirmed there was something in there,” he said.

According to the police report, the “case requires no police action and the report is for documentation purposes only.” The case has since been closed.

As we reported previously, Burr Ridge police responded to a reported burglary in 2013 at Tri-State when Strenzel said someone broke into a district safe containing tapes and then asked what should be done if the recordings had been erased “using a magnet.”

Police were called back again that night to “move items from a compromised safe to a new safe,” records show. You can read more about that incident here.

For other past stories on Tri-State, which provides taxpayer-financed firefighting and emergency medical services to parts of Burr Ridge, Darien, Willowbrook, Willow Springs and unincorporated DuPage County, please see:

Under Fire

Suburban fire chief resigns amid mounting questions about her agency’s finances and leadership. But she’s not leaving empty-handed – she collects a lucrative exit package.

Hey Rig Spender

Suburban fire department claims tight finances – but spends freely on pricey fire trucks, meals and various perks.

Are Taxpayers Getting Burned?

Top officials at suburban fire department get hefty pay raises just as they retire – creating a pension windfall that could cost local residents an extra $1.5 million.

A Burning Conflict

Fire district trustee votes on fire chief’s pay, benefits. Only problem: they live together.

Not All Government Consolidations Work

Should the district be expanding and taking on more responsibilities when its own financial house isn’t in order?

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Elections for trustee positions with the Tri-State FPD

Excerpts from the

Three candidates are running for the one open seat on the Tri-State Fire Protection District Board, but there’s not a lot of campaigning.

Julie Strenzel, a board incumbent, did not respond to messages and emails to discuss her candidacy. Strenzel has been under the microscope of the Better Government Association for moves she has made during her tenure on the board. The BGA reported last year that Strenzel is in a civil union and raising a family with former Tri-State Chief Michelle Gibson, but still voted to approve a retirement agreement that paid the former chief about $136,000 for unused sick days and vacation time.  Strenzel is also on record approving late career pension spikes for two other former chiefs, as well as an assistant chief.

Matthew Goodwin, a former U.S. Army major, said the BGA investigation is one reason he is running. “I am concerned with the way the board has been run in the past, the issues that have resulted in BGA reports,” Goodwin said. “It is not the type of scrutiny we need.” Goodwin said that stewardship, service and transparency are the pillars of his campaign.

“We don’t need personal agendas and personal priorities,” Goodwin said. “We need good stewards of taxpayer dollars; and the board need to operate in an open and transparent manner as much as possible.” He said that he is concerned about the pension-spiking that has occurred.

The third candidate, Eric Habercoss, a lieutenant with the Cicero Fire Department, agreed. “I have lived in the district 10 years and I have seen the BGA and Doings articles about the misappropriation of funds,” Habercoss said. “I have been a career fireman, 22 years. I want to make a positive impact on the community.” He noted that a practice called pension spiking, where those nearing retirement are giving higher raises their final years to augment their annual pension payment, will cost the district $1.5 million during the next 20 years.

“We need to stop the wasteful spending,” Habercoss said. “The district’s legal fees were more than $500,000 a couple of years ago. There is a lack of bidding for apparatus equipment.” He noted that the Tri-State Board recently decided that all tapes of meetings more than 18 months old will be destroyed. “I am not going to vote for destroying anything,” Habercoss said. “There needs to be accountability in the district.”

The Tri-State District serves parts of Burr Ridge, Darien, Willowbrook and unincorporated DuPage County.

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