COLUMBIA — Four out of five candidates for the Boone County Fire Protection District board of directors attended the Muleskinner candidate forum Friday. Candidate Mike Becker, who describes himself as “reformist,” said he was not invited.
“I would have gone, but I wasn’t invited; they didn’t even tell me,” said Becker, who is a dues-paying member of the Muleskinners, a Democratic party organization. “Maybe I’m too outspoken. I’m more concerned with the taxpayer dollars than going along with the status quo.”
Becker said he first heard about the forum when the Missourian called him after the forum to find out why he wasn’t there.
“I am on their mailing list; they could have easily asked me to participate,” Becker said. “I feel this would have been an effective means to voice concerns about the fire district that was not allowed to be heard.”
After speaking to the Missourian, Becker called the Muleskinners to ask why he was not informed of the event. He said he was told by the Muleskinners that messages were left with his wife about two forums he did not attend.
“My wife hasn’t answered the phone for over 10 years, so that explanation is fishy,” Becker said. “I feel that other candidates’ close association to the Muleskinners may have been the reason I wasn’t invited.”
Muleskinners President Kay Callison said the organization’s vice chairman of programming, Sean Spence, assured her that he made “good faith efforts” to invite Becker to the forum, which was held in Stamper Commons at Stephens College.
“I have no reason to disbelieve Sean,” Callison said. “If a mistake was made, it was an honest mistake. We are very sorry that we did not have Mr. Becker’s presence at the forum. We have an impeccable record of inviting all guests to our forums.”
It was the second forum in one week for the fire board candidates, Phyllis Fugit, John Sam Williamson, Mike McMillen and Mickey Nichols. About 50 to 60 people paid $8 to hear the forum and have lunch.
The forum followed a format similar to the League of Women Voters event on Tuesday, with two minutes allotted to each candidate for opening statements, answers to questions posed by the audience and closing comments.
Candidates were asked pointed questions by the audience about the lack of independence of prior boards from Fire Chief Steve Paulsell; the territorial agreement between city and county fire departments; and the possibility of the volunteer district becoming a paid department.
All four candidates denied that their relationship to Paulsell would affect their judgment. McMillen said issue No. 1 should be financial accountability.
Williamson said things that “don’t look good” make the headlines, but pointed out that the fire district has been effective.
“If you want to blame the chief for things that go wrong, you have to give him credit for what has gone right, too,” Williamson said.
Nichols acknowledged that some of the board’s decisions in the past have not always been the best. He said the Fire Protection District and its board were headed in the right direction and hoped to remain a part of it.
Fugit said she thought the fire district and chief were open and forthcoming.
“I plan to see to it that everything is open,” she said. “If it isn’t, I’ll make sure it happens.”
McMillen was alone among the candidates in citing the importance of medical emergency response. Noting that 71 percent of all fire district calls are in response to medical emergencies, he said he wanted to ensure that the district is always prepared to save lives.
None of the four candidates in attendance said that they see the district becoming a paid department anytime soon. Nichols brought up studies of other districts that went from volunteer to paid and that there were problems with volunteers losing interest.
Williamson agreed, saying, “The strength of the organization is the volunteers. I would hate to see that change.”