Lawsuit seeks Paulsell records

It asks the Boone Co. Fire Protection District to produce travel records for the chief and Curry.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:04 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Jefferson City attorney David Moen filed a lawsuit Monday to force the Boone County Fire Protection District to turn over public records.

The suit also seeks fines against the Fire Protection District and its former custodian of records, former Assistant Chief Sharon Curry, for failure to comply with Missouri’s Open Records law.

The lawsuit, filed in Boone County Circuit Court, states that on Nov. 6, Moen filed a request with the fire district for records related to Fire Chief Steve Paulsell and Curry’s travel expenses from 1998 until the time of the request.

Moen is representing six former employees of the fire district, all of whom have received their right-to-sue letters from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. All are seeking compensation based on allegations of a hostile work environment.

Moen said he was not looking into their travel expenses as part of an existing case.

“I wanted to find out about Paulsell and Sharon Curry’s traveling together and how it was paid (for),” he said.

Paulsell and Curry were engaged earlier this year. Their relationship and its effect on the administration of the fire agency have been part of complaints filed by former fire district employees and volunteers.

After Moen’s initial request, Jeff Parshall, the fire district’s attorney, responded with a letter on Nov. 8 that said records from 2004 through 2006 would be made available “as soon as possible.”

The letter also said that the records from 1998 to 2003 were “not readily available” and that some “may not even exist.”

None of the records were provided by the fire district.

Division Chief Gale Blomenkamp referred questions to Parshall.

Parshall was not available for comment. A person answering the phone at his law office, Ford, Parshall and Baker LLC, said he would be unavailable for the next two days.

Moen sent another letter Jan. 12 saying that he would like the records from 2004 on, and the others as soon as possible.

Again, he did not receive a response.

On Feb. 2, Moen called the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and was directed to attorney Brett Berri. But Moen said he gave up hope after not receiving a response for two weeks.

“They’re not required to look out for my rights for open records requests,” he said. “They can take action if they choose to do so, but they’re not required to.”

Berri said the Attorney General’s Office does mediate between the public and a public institution when documents are withheld. But, he said, the office is typically less inclined to work on a project when the complainant is an attorney.

“Usually when someone’s dedicated to asserting their rights, it’s a little easier for them” to argue the case on their own, he said.

Moen is asking that the records be provided, that each defendant be fined a $1,000 civil penalty and that defendants cover attorney fees.

Meanwhile, a Columbia Police Department investigation into the disappearance of federal documents from the fire district has been closed, Columbia Police Department officials said Tuesday.

The disappearance of files was reported to police by the fire district on Feb. 21.

Columbia police Officer Jeff Forck said that the statute of limitations on the missing files was up and that “no criminal activities occurred that (police) are aware of.”

The investigation was prompted by an open records request filed by the Missourian on Jan. 16. Forck said the police have no other leads in the disappearance of the missing documents.

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