A 'culture of hostility' leads Brooklyn Park fire chief to step down

The Brooklyn Park Mayor is calling for the resignation of a city council member who city leaders accuse of creating a “culture of hostility” that pushed out the latest fire chief.

Monday night, the City Council approved the separation agreement for Fire Chief Kenneth Prillaman in a unanimous 6 – 0 vote. The process of the fire chief’s buyout started in June when Prillaman sent a letter to the city manager to inform city leaders he works in an “unfair, hostile work environment.”

Mayor Jeffrey Lunde is pointing the finger at Councilman Mark Mata, accusing him of driving out not just Prillaman, but the city's last two fire chiefs.

“For me this is a bad case of deja vu because I've been here. About ten years ago, the predecessor, the same council member, went after the other fire chief,” said Mayor Lunde. “And so that's been kind of the question is ‘We're here again?’ So it's not the fire chiefs, it's about a vendetta and I think what's suffering is the city.”

“We have one person who's trying to ruin the city, ultimately,” said Brooklyn Park Councilman Rich Gates of the central district.

The buyout of Prillaman’s contract will cost taxpayers $120,000, with $35,000 of that sum to simply avoid a lawsuit. It’s a suit neither the City of Brooklyn Park nor Fire Chief Prillaman want, according to Councilman Gates and Mayor Lunde, who both support Prillaman.

“Because Mark [Mata] is a firefighter he thinks he has the power to criticize everything,” said Rich Gates, a Brooklyn Park resident.

Concerned residents spoke out at the meeting in favor of Prillaman and called for Mata to recuse himself of dealings and duties with the Brooklyn Park Fire Department.

“You’re always worried how you might be treated, or that you might be targeted next and I think what city staff is going to hear tonight is that the line is drawn,” said Mayor Lunde. “We’re not going to let people be picked on. We’re not going to let people be ambushed at council meetings anymore.”

Prillaman has been Brooklyn Park’s fire chief for just a few days shy of nine years. He said that while he’s incredibly appreciative of the community support he has received, the work environment is such that he has no other choice but to step down.