Reading a typed statement in front of board members and a full audience Thursday, embattled Boone County Fire Protection District Fire Chief Steve Paulsell supported bringing in a communication consultant and spoke out for the first time against criticism of how he runs the fire district.
Paulsell said he took personal offense to Columbia Daily Tribune columnist Tony Messenger’s Oct. 12 column, in which Messenger said Paulsell views his volunteers as “turkeys,” or people that hinder an organization’s development. Paulsell responded by saying he has turned down better paying jobs because Boone County is his home and because of the firefighters.
“I work each day to earn their respect,” he said. Paulsell choked up and had to pause when talking about a particular firefighter who had just been named squad leader of his battalion.
The fire district has been under criticism since a July board meeting when former volunteers and other critics voiced concerns about potential abuses of power among administrators.
The recommendation to bring in a consultant to assess and remedy communication problems comes a month after Columbia psychologist Pamela Franta suggested ways to ease tension within the fire district.
“We are getting work done, but we are doing it at a cost.” Paulsell said. He said his critics “have nothing else to do but make problems for us.”
He acknowledged communication failures within the Fire District and said it has not done well telling its side of the controversy. He recommended hiring a communications specialist at the end of his statement; board president Willis Smith and member Myrtle Rapp praised and thanked him.
Glenda Castrop, the wife of a former fire district volunteer who is leading a petition drive to recall Smith, said during public comment that citizens she has spoken with are proud of the volunteers.
“They would like to see (the fire district) go on, and it will with some changes,” Castrop said.
Castrop’s group has to collect more than 5,300 signatures by mid-November in order for the recall to be on the next ballot. She said she did not know how many signatures the group has collected so far.
The next fire district board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 9.
In other business, the board:
n Approved a $2 increase to the $3 gas cards currently given to volunteer first responders.
n Approved the purchase of a replacement hazardous material vehicle using a $150,000 government grant and up to $70,000 of district money.
n Approved a proposal to put the option of increasing the board’s size from three to five members on the next public ballot.
— Missourian reporter J.T. Quin contributed to this report.