Petition to recall fire board is under way

At least 5,342 signatures must be collected, and legal hurdles exist.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:04 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 29, 2008

Even if a petition drive is successful in gathering more than the required 5,000 signatures, the path to a recall of the three members of the Boone County Fire Protection District board of directors could be a long and possibly litigious one.

The process received its public kickoff last Thursday at a meeting of the board, which heard heated criticism of Boone County Fire Chief Steve Paulsell, Assistant Chief Sharon Curry and itself from a handful of current and former firefighters. Complaints centered on the relationship between Paulsell and Curry and what some have described as a witch hunt to fire anybody who speaks out against them.

Glenda Castrop, the wife of a former firefighter, accused the board of failing to respond to complaints from the public and firefighters about Paulsell and Curry. She told board members Willis Smith, John Gordon and Myrtle Rapp that she would begin the process of removing them.

While such efforts have been successful in other parts of the state, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said Monday the law isn’t clear on such recalls because the state legislature adopted two versions of the statute regarding recall of fire district board members. One version seems to give only St. Louis County the ability to recall fire district board members. The other allows any fire district in the state to recall board members. So, if the recall is successful, board members may still be able to fight the decision in court, Noren said.

“They could take it to court,” Noren said. “It happens all the time. We are always in some kind of petition litigation before elections.”

Castrop said she is not concerned about the recall ending in court.

“They will have to put their own money forward to take it to court,” Castrop said. “If they want to go that route, then it’s OK with me.”

All three members have to be recalled individually. Board member Rapp may be too close to the end of her term to recall, Noren said. According to a state statute, a board member cannot be recalled within 180 days of the beginning or end of his or her term. The six-month period begins in October for Rapp, whose term expires in April 2006.

The first election in which, voters could approve a recall will occur in April 2006. In order for the recall to appear on the ballot, petitioners must collect signatures from 25 percent of voters in the fire district who voted in the November 2004 election. Noren said this would require 5,342 signatures, and she called this number “very high.”

Castrop admitted it was a daunting number, but said she expects to succeed.

“There are too many people who have called me with the same concerns,” Castrop said. “We’ve got a lot of help to go door-to-door and other places.” Castrop said she plans to visit businesses in Hallsville, Sturgeon, Harrisburg and outside of Centralia.

Castrop said she hoped to expand the effort and come up with the final language for the recall statement at a meeting tonight at her Hallsville home. The statement will likely focus on what Castrop told the board last week — that problems within the fire district administration are costing taxpayers.

“(The statement will discuss) the hostility that has been created down at the office, and the high salaries that they have approved,” Castrop said.

Board members are not fighting recall efforts at this time.

“If (recall) is the way (Castrop) feels she can better the fire district, then that is her right to do that,” Gordon said. “I haven’t heard why she thinks that needs to be done, but if she has a good reason then certainly it ought to be entertained from her standpoint.”

“I think we’ll just have to wait and see what develops,” Rapp said. “There was a lot of information given to us, and I need some more time to think about it.”

Smith refused to comment.

The purpose of the board is to oversee fire district operations and appoint a fire chief. Each serves a six-year term. Smith’s current term will end in 2008 and Gordon’s in 2010. Smith has served on the board for the longest—27 years. Rapp has served for 14 years, and Gordon was elected in 2004 to fill the vacancy left by John Richard.

The board chose Paulsell as fire chief in 1977 as the fire district’s first paid employee, according to the Boone County Fire Protection District Web site. The board of directors was created in 1970, when the volunteer fire department was officially recognized as the Boone County Fire Protection District.

If the recall effort is successful, it will be the first time in BCFPD history that a board member is recalled, Noren said.

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