Boone County Fire District board member John Gordon appeared to take a stand in opposition to the board’s two other members at a regular meeting Thursday, demanding that an outside consultant be hired to analyze the district’s “problems” and that Assistant Chief Sharon Curry turn over board minutes, salary figures, personnel records and vendor contracts.
Gordon moved that the board hire “a qualified, professional and independent consulting firm” to evaluate the district’s administration. He emphasized that the consultant should be from outside mid-Missouri.
Board President Willis Smith and the third member, Myrtle Rapp, refused to support Gordon’s motion. Rapp cited concerns about the costs of a consultant. Both said they’d only agree to hire someone local.
Gordon seemed intent on getting an outside opinion on recent criticism from former firefighters of Fire Chief Steve Paulsell’s $177,058 salary and his alleged habit of firing workers who disagree with him. Also drawing fire is Assistant Chief Sharon Curry, her $93,460 salary and allegations of unprofessional behavior by both her and Paulsell.
It was a discussion that began three weeks ago after former volunteer firefighters Todd Burke and Deb Diller stood up at a July 21 board meeting and openly criticized Paulsell, asking board members to hold him “to a much higher standard of behavior.”
Rapp has maintained that all the department needs is a local “communications specialist” to offer recommendations about what she says are internal and external communication problems. Rapp referred to her plan as “crisis intervention.”
Gordon said hiring a communications specialist would not address the fire district’s immediate needs.
“Once again we’ve jumped over the problems and to a solution,” he said. “We must identify the problems before we go out and find a solution ... we need an objective and independent opinion from a qualified person. Board members are not qualified to render sound assessments.”
After his motion to hire a consultant failed, Gordon presented Curry with a request for all contracts with temporary, part-time or full-time staff since January 2000. He also requested copies of personnel files for all employees or volunteers that were terminated or disciplined since January 2000 and copies of correspondence and memos pertaining to compensation packages for full-time staff as well as “a complete breakdown” of paid employees’ salary and fringe benefits since January 2004.
Gordon also requested the minutes of all board meetings and all contracts and grants with outside vendors since January 2000. His request to Curry, who was present at the meeting, included a warning: turn over the documents or be suspended without pay.
“You’ve left me no choice but to do this,” Gordon said.
As a board member, Gordon has the authority to discipline staff members, but any suspension would have to be voted on and approved by a majority of the three-person board.
Paulsell spoke at the hearing, defending Curry and calling himself the “target” of untrue allegations without directly addressing any of the charges made against him.
“There is nothing wrong with a person holding a title as long as people know her responsibilities,” Paulsell said, adding that Curry’s salary is similar to others that hold the same amount of responsibility and tenure.
The board also voted unanimously Thursday to open a public forum for discussing an expansion of the board from three members to five.
“This is something the public wants to hear,” Gordon said. “They want to hear pros and cons.”
The idea for expansion was presented to the board by Glenda Castrop of Hallsville, who has been outspoken in her criticism of the fire district, and she announced her effort to recall the current board.
“It has become evident that three elected members of the Board of Directors is simply not enough,” Castrop wrote in a statement.