Orono found in contempt of court in legal battle over fire services

In a rare move, a Hennepin County District Court judge has found the City of Orono in contempt of court amid a dispute over the control of fire departments.

The issue centers around a contentious struggle between Orono and Long Lake, regarding the future of fire services in the west metro.

"The initial plan was to really take over the Long Lake fire department. They actually used words like ‘take over,’" explained Long Lake Mayor Charlie Miner. "This is a really unique situation. It’s the first time we know of in Minnesota history a city has been held in contempt of court."

Orono Mayor Dennis Walsh is in the process of exiting an agreement with Long Lake that involved sharing fire department services for many years. Following unsuccessful renegotiations, Walsh moved towards establishing a separate fire department for Orono. Long Lake responded with a lawsuit, accusing Orono of poaching its firefighters, among other allegations.

A judge ordered Orono to stop, only now the judge says Orono is disobeying the order.

Orono Mayor Dennis Walsh disputes these claims. "That’s false, that’s the judge's opinion, and the judge is wrong. We will vehemently defend that moving forward," he commented.

Just Monday, Walsh recently announced the hiring of another firefighter from Long Lake. "We don't agree with the judge's ruling to begin with," Walsh continued. "So, we think in the end, we will be vindicated, and the ruling will be overturned."

So far, almost ten Long Lake firefighters have flipped to Orono. But Walsh says they submitted statements saying they came over to Orono without being recruited.

Former mayors of Orono, including Gabriel Jabbour, have joined the fray, criticizing Walsh's leadership. "It is up to the city residents to unseat him and reverse everything he does," Jabbour remarked.

"They're just jealous of all the things we've done that they've never did," Walsh argued. "In terms of correct budgeting and putting the right things in place and teams and technology. They have a political axe to grind and that's all that is."

As a result of the contempt ruling, Orono has been ordered to cover Long Lake’s legal fees and could face a fine of $2,000 for future violations. The threat of a bench warrant even looms as the judge says Orono had made plans for additions to a shared fire station without Long Lake’s input.

Both cities are now mandated to resume mediation within the next 30 days.