Osseo settles defamation suit filed by former fire chief

  • Article by: BEN JOHNSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2013 - 3:00 PM

Settlement is the latest in a long, complicated history between former Fire Chief Mark Lynde and Osseo City Hall.

Osseo has settled a defamation suit brought by former fire chief Mark Lynde, agreeing to pay Lynde — whom City Council voted 3-2 to remove in April 2012— $25,000 and to issue a statement clearing him of any professional or personal misconduct.

The Aug. 13 settlement closed the door on his tumultuous three-year tenure as fire chief, during which Lynde sometimes butted heads with city staff, police and other firefighters over the direction of the 30-person, paid on-call department.

“I didn’t do anything wrong, which [City Council] has since admitted as part of our settlement. … They still have not given me a reason for why they terminated me,” said Lynde, who also owns several businesses in Osseo.

Osseo Mayor Duane Poppe, his wife, Amy, City Council Member Rick Weber and former City Administrator Jeffrey Dahl were named in the lawsuit. Poppe and Dahl referred all questions regarding Lynde to their lawyer, and Weber did not return phone or e-mail messages left by the Star Tribune.

“The council used its at-will employment clause to move the department in a new direction, and that’s really all I can say about that,” said Poppe, who was elected mayor in 2012 after previously serving as a City Council member.

Lynde was appointed fire chief by City Council on Dec. 8, 2008, after spending 11 years working for the Osseo Fire Department.

He soon had dust-ups with then-Osseo Police Chief Tim Ryan, including a situation in which Lynde used a $200,000 public safety grant originally meant for the police department. According to Lynde, the grant was about to expire, so he stepped in and used the grant to make improvements to the Osseo fire station.

“Whenever somebody makes changes and it makes others look [bad] because they didn’t make them, then yeah, you’re going to have second place mad at you,” said Lynde.

Ryan and former City Administrator Greg Withers were later dismissed by City Council amid allegations of sexual misconduct and a subsequent cover-up in a separate controversy at City Hall.

In 2010, more feathers were ruffled when City Council voted 4-0 to purchase a new Ford Expedition, which Lynde used to respond to emergency calls and drive to meetings. At the time, Lynde was being paid a $315 stipend per month, and according to Lynde, he asked for the car after Withers approached him about increasing his compensation amid 20-30 hour workweeks.

“I told [Withers] every other fire chief in Hennepin County has a vehicle that they respond to emergency calls with. … I respond 24/7 to calls — that would be a great value for the city,” said Lynde. “There was some firefighters that didn’t like that I was the first [Osseo fire chief] to get a vehicle, but I was also the first [Osseo fire chief] to work 90 hours a month consistently.”

In 2011, Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Gisvold died after an accident at his home, and the Gisvold family felt Lynde was overbearing and insensitive following the accident. The family’s grievances were detailed in a scathing speech given by Chuck Gisvold’s daughter-in-law, LeAnn Gisvold, at the April 23, 2012, City Council meeting, at which Lynde was ultimately fired.

“He’s a Jekyll and Hyde. He will walk up to you, he’ll put his arms around you, and he’s the nicest guy in the world, and then he does things like he did to us. … I pray to God that Mark Lynde is not chief,” said LeAnn Gisvold.

Dramatic, disorganized exit

On Feb. 9, 2012, Lynde met with Mayor Al Lindquist, City Administrator Jeffrey Dahl and City Attorney Loren Magsam. At the meeting, Lynde says he was told to resign by Dahl, who served as his immediate supervisor.

“[Dahl] said, ‘Mark, it’s not about right or wrong. It’s about votes — and you don’t have them,’ ” said Lynde. At that meeting it became clear that City Council Members Poppe, Weber and Mark Schulz had aligned against Lynde.

Lynde then submitted a letter to the city that seemed to offer his resignation. However, it was addressed to his fellow firefighters instead of his superiors at City Hall, a distinction Lynde seized upon later when he claimed that it was not a letter of resignation.

This all culminated in an awkward, disorganized showdown at the Feb. 13, 2012, City Council meeting. Members of the Osseo Fire Department and other surrounding fire departments packed the council chambers in support of Lynde.

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