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Documents show CAFD paid former chief more than $43K

The separation agreement between former Cloquet Area Fire District Chief Matthew Ashmore and the district shows he was paid $43,362 after his resignation.

Cloquet Area Fire District headquarters
Cloquet Area Fire District Headquarters.
Jamey Malcomb / 2020 file / Pine Journal

CLOQUET — After resigning last year, former Cloquet Area Fire District Chief Matthew Ashmore’s separation agreement shows what his resignation cost the district.

Cloquet Area Fire District Chief Matthew Ashmore’s resignation was approved by the Cloquet Area Fire District Board after 45 minutes of closed session discussion.

The agreement, which was obtained by the Pine Journal through a public records request, shows the former chief received $43,362 from the district.

The compensation to the former chief comes in the form of four months' salary and accrued unused vacation. Of the total payment, $35,407.56 is from salary and $7,954.85 is from unused vacation days. The salary payments are broken up into the gross amount that was received each pay period, whereas the unused vacation pay was paid in one lump sum on the pay period after the agreement was signed.

Ashmore’s resignation came after a special meeting by the district’s board on Dec. 6, when the board was looking into his conduct.

Ashmore worked for the district from November 2020 to December 2021. By signing the agreement, he relinquished his ability to sue the district, the documents show.

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Prior to his resignation, Ashmore was placed on administrative leave Nov. 11. Another document obtained by the Pine Journal through an open records request revealed that during Ashmore’s Loudermill hearings on Nov. 22 — a two-step process to consider allegations against an employee — an investigation was made into “apparent violations of the CAFD COVID-19 Plan 3.0.”

While a good portion of the document is redacted, it states Ashmore was alleged to have not worn a mask when interacting with the public while being within 6 feet of them, which went against the district’s COVID-19 rules.

In an email obtained by the Pine Journal, Ashmore informed the board a member of his household tested positive for the virus on Oct. 25.

121020.N.PJ.CAFDChief_1.jpg
Former Cloquet Area Fire District Chief Matthew Ashmore. Ashmore was placed on administrative leave Nov. 11, 2021, and resigned on Dec. 6, 2021.
Jamey Malcomb / 2020 file / Pine Journal

In the minutes for the open portion of the Loudermill hearing, Ashmore said he tested negative for COVID-19 before attending a public class and believed he was negative for the virus when he interacted with district staff.

The minutes also reflect Ashmore said he was not within the 6 feet for more than 30 seconds to hand documents to staff.

"I truly believe I was acting in good faith when following the District's expectations in this matter," Ashmore said in the minutes.

As the former chief had reviewed the COVID-19 policies, it was alleged that he intentionally and/or negligently violated the policies, according to the Loudermill hearing documentation.

“It is alleged that your actions and inactions significantly damage the respect for you of those you are required to lead,” the documents said.

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Ashmore's resignation came during a stretch of three other resignations in the district.

Those included former CAFD board chair Bob DeCaigny, who resigned on Dec. 14 after being asked to step down by the city of Cloquet; Thomson Township board representative Jason Paulson, who resigned in October out of protest over the proposed ambulance-only tax levy; and district administrator Molly Cooper, who resigned in December to take a new career opportunity.

Bob DeCaigny submitted his letter of resignation after being asked by the city of Cloquet to resign.

The district’s leadership now consists of Interim Chief Jesse Buhs, who previously served as a battalion chief in the district, and Chair Linda Way.

In 2022, the district will look to continue to examine and assess the ambulance-only levy in the district, which caused controversy among Thomson Township residents last year.

Buhs said during the district’s February meeting he plans to have accurate and precise costs of the ambulance service to the ambulance-only areas of the district for when budget planning starts in June.

After many discussions with residents, legal counsel and staff, the Cloquet Area Fire District certified its tax levy for 2022, keeping the controversial ambulance-only tax levy at 0.019.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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