GREENWOOD— The town board chair here says he was the target of a verbal assault, including profanity, by the city of Tower’s ambulance director, Steve Altenburg, after he commented favorably on a …
GREENWOOD— The town board chair here says he was the target of a verbal assault, including profanity, by the city of Tower’s ambulance director, Steve Altenburg, after he commented favorably on a recent editorial on the website of the Timberjay newspaper.
John Bassing said he received the call this past week, at his home, and that the call came from Tower City Hall. He said City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith was audible in the background. “I believe Josh [Carlson] was there, too,” said Bassing, referring to the city’s mayor. “I don’t expect to get a call like that from a public official,” Bassing added.
Altenburg was upset after Bassing lauded an editorial that had appeared in the Timberjay’s Jan. 19 edition that urged the city of Tower to reconsider its current plan for switching to a paid on-call ambulance service, in favor of one that provided more opportunity for its existing volunteers to take part. The editorial further advocated that the city focus on transitioning to an advanced life support (ALS) service as means of improving patient care and generating more revenue. Mr. Bassing expressed his agreement.
“Great editorial,” Bassing had commented. “ALS service is available in both Virginia and Hibbing but the Hwy. 169 corridor has no near coverage. With an aging population and a summer population that dramatically increases the need, ALS is what we should work toward.”
The comment apparently incensed Altenburg, prompting his call to Bassing. “He started out a little bit hot, and then he got into the swearing,” said Bassing. “Let’s just say there was a lot of colorful language directed at the Timberjay.” Bassing added, “That’s not the way to win support.”
According to Bassing, Altenburg suggested he should refrain from commenting on such matters because he’s an elected official. Bassing said he didn’t surrender his First Amendment rights by holding office. Altenburg’s suggestion is ironic, since he was before the Tower City Council several weeks earlier asking the city’s elected representatives to submit a letter to the city of Eveleth critical of changes that city was making in its own ambulance service.
According to Bassing, Altenburg began using profanity when describing his displeasure with the Timberjay editorial and an accompanying news story about how various communities were adjusting to increasing demand for inter-hospital transfers of patients and the increasing difficulty of attracting volunteers. The Timberjay story and editorial had also taken issue with a paid on-call plan pushed by Altenburg for failing to account for the full costs of the change and exaggerating the potential for new revenue. Altenburg, according to Bassing, took issue with the numbers, but never provided specifics.
“I told him he should write a letter to the editor if he has different numbers,” said Bassing.
The Timberjay did reach out to Altenburg for comment and for answers to questions about his actions. The Timberjay also provided Altenburg with a breakdown of the numbers used in its Jan. 19 story and editorial on the ambulance service and offered Altenburg the opportunity to correct any numbers that he felt were inaccurate.
Altenburg did not respond.