Stinging criticism aimed at fire chief

The Boone County Fire Protection District Board heard a strong protest at Thursday’s meeting.
Friday, July 22, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:49 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 26, 2008

Todd Burke, a battalion chief for the Boone County Fire Protection District, and former Boone County volunteer firefighter Deb Diller asked the district’s board to act quickly on their allegations of unethical and unprofessional behavior by Fire Chief Steve Paulsell at a heated board meeting Thursday.

Burke and Diller spoke for more than an hour and a half, complaining that Paulsell disrespects his staff and lashes out with acts of retaliation against anyone who challenges him or Assistant Chief Sharon Curry, who they say is romantically involved with Paulsell.

Glenda Castrop of Hallsville, who said she is preparing to gather signatures for a petition to recall the elected board, joined Burke and Diller in their protest.

Paulsell, who is paid a salary of $177,058, and Curry, who makes $93,460, sat quietly as Diller accused them of having “hideous salaries” and Paulsell of denying her a deserved promotion for personal reasons.

Paulsell did not return phone calls seeking a response, and Curry could not be reached for comment.

The district’s spokesman, Gale Blomenkamp, responded to Thursday’s accusations in a statement

e-mailed to the media. It reads: “We are taking into consideration and evaluating all the statements that were made today during the meeting and will comment on those statements at a later date.”

Diller did not lay out any specific steps that should be taken against Paulsell and Curry, instead asking the board to hold the chief “to a much higher standard of behavior” and “manage the taxpayer’s money.”

Diller also read aloud a letter she said was from volunteer Battalion Chief Jerry Jenkins, who she said is on vacation in Florida. According to Diller, Jenkins wrote that firefighters have been afraid to come forward and complain about Paulsell because of fear of retaliation. “It is time for those with courage to come forward,” she read, calling out the name of Chief of Staff Rob Brown and other district leaders.

The chair normally reserved for Brown was empty Thursday, and he declined to comment when reached by telephone.

Burke accused the board, along with Paulsell, of conducting a witch hunt to dismiss Brown from his job. Castrop complained that they were not listening to their citizens.

Board President Willis Smith and members Myrtle Rapp and John Gordon Sr. sat silently through the meeting. Their only comment was a thank you that Smith offered Burke, Diller and Castrop at the end of their speeches.

After the meeting, Castrop said she would begin her signature drive as soon as Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren prepares a petition for the recall of the members, each of whom must be recalled individually.

The Boone County Fire Protection District manages the third largest fire coverage area in the state. It has about 300 volunteers and a yearly budget of $2 million.

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