Fire board considers hiring a consultant

The board held a closed meeting to discuss how to handle charges against the county district chief.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:53 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

An external consultant might be able to help the Boone County Fire Protection District resolve problems surrounding allegations of unethical and unprofessional behavior on the part of Fire Chief Steve Paulsell and Assistant Chief Sharon Curry, district board members agreed in a closed meeting Monday.

Meanwhile, board member Myrtle Rapp acknowledged Tuesday that the meeting might have violated Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

After the meeting, board member John Gordon said the board decided it will look into the possibility of hiring an outside consultant to determine the appropriate course of action for handling accusations against Paulsell and Curry.

Those charges came to light at a Thursday board meeting, where Battalion Chief Todd Burke, former volunteer firefighter Deb Diller and Glenda Castrop, the wife of a former firefighter, complained about Paulsell and Curry’s leadership styles and their salaries. Burke, Diller and Castrop also complained that the board had refused to listen to them before.

Rapp said Tuesday that the board thus far has done little more than discuss the potential for hiring a consultant.

“We did not hire (a consultant). We don’t know what it will cost; we just discussed it,” Rapp said, adding that any consultant hired would have to be interviewed and formally voted on by the board.

“If I didn’t think that they could make a recommendation that would solve the problem, I wouldn’t even consider spending the money on it,” Rapp said.

Rapp said the meeting was originally convened to discuss personnel issues involving district employees. The Sunshine Law allows governmental bodies to hold meetings to discuss hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting employees. It was the talk of hiring a consultant, however, that raised questions about whether the meeting should have been open to the public.

While the discussion of personnel issues is allowed to take place behind closed doors, discussion of contracting an outside consultant does not fall under the purview of the Sunshine Law’s personnel exemption.

“They were not hiring an employee,” Jean Maneke, an attorney for the Missouri Press Association said. “When you are hiring an employee, you are dealing with things like benefits and tax withholdings. When you hire an external contractor, you are not dealing with (these things).”

Although Rapp admitted confusion over the legality of the closed meeting, board members probably will face no punishment for the mistake.

“A frustration of the Sunshine Law is that most corrective action is in terms of moving forward, not punishing wrongdoers” Charles Davis, director of MU’s Freedom of Information Center said. “There are civil penalties under the law, but standards are really high.”

Also Tuesday, a small group met at the Hallsville home of Castrop to discuss plans to petition for a recall of board members. Castrop would not comment on what was discussed in the meeting, but released a statement explaining that the group is planning a larger meeting in another venue to accommodate anybody who wishes to join the group.

In order to successfully recall the board members, petitioners will need to collect 5,342 signatures, an amount equal to 25 percent of fire district voters who cast ballots in the November 2004 election. If successful, a recall question will appear on the ballot in April 2006.

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