Orono City Council Member Victoria Seals resigned abruptly Monday night, following a contentious meeting about the future of fire service in the Lake Minnetonka city.
The council is speeding toward a vote next month to change its fire service, likely severing ties with the Long Lake Fire Department and starting a new department that Orono will administer alone.
Seals, first elected in 2016, had been one of two Orono council members negotiating with neighboring Long Lake about how to disentangle the shared and jointly funded Long Lake Fire Department. The department is administered through Long Lake but Orono, as the larger city with more calls for service, funds nearly 85% of the department and can veto budgets.
Seals is also married to a member of the Long Lake Fire Department, she said Monday. When a resident asked if it was appropriate for her to be part of fire service negotiations, City Attorney Soren Mattick said he determined she had no conflict of interest.
During Monday's council meeting, Orono Fire Chief James Van Eyll presented four courses of action to the council on the future of a fire service. All the options, he said, would result in property taxes higher than maintaining the status quo.
"Why?" one resident asked during the public comment period, to whoops and applause from others.
Van Eyll, who served as Long Lake fire chief until the end of 2022, said any fire service in Orono needs to update its equipment and should aim for quicker response times than the Long Lake department has.
Orono Mayor Dennis Walsh said he thought Orono could do a better job administering a Fire Department than Long Lake, and said he felt Orono funded a disproportionate share of the Long Lake Fire Department.
More than 50 residents and members of the Long Lake Fire Department packed into Orono's council chambers, with more standing in the lobby, straining to hear. After Van Eyll presented, residents spent more than an hour asking questions, with all but one who spoke urging the council against any hurried change without more public engagement.
Walsh said city elections are sufficient public engagement, and rejected calls for a mediator to negotiate what has become an acrimonious split between the cities.
Long Lake, for its part, has retained an attorney and is threatening a breach-of-contract suit over what it sees as Orono's attempts to take over the Long Lake department.
The Orono council discussed the possible suit in a closed session Monday night, with Seals entering the session as a council member. By Tuesday morning, she had resigned, according to the Orono city clerk.