Attorney says fire district’s board wants paid staff

Thursday, April 19, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:25 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

For the third time in about a month, the attorney for the Missouri Association of Fire Protection Districts popped up at the Boone County Fire Protection District’s board meeting — this time accusing board members of wanting to change the fire district from a volunteer system to a paid staff system.

At the meeting, Dave Griggs, a fire district board member, presented a letter to the fire district written by attorney Pat Cronan that alleges that two of the three fire district board members want to replace the current system, which operates with about 15 paid staff and about 300 volunteers, with a system run entirely by paid employees. Such a change would require about $15 million to operate, the letter states.

Griggs asked his fellow two board members which of them had suggested replacing the volunteers with paid professional employees.

“It’s not me,” board Chairman John Gordon said. “I pay enough taxes.”

“My answer to that is the same answer I had during the election, and that is no,” Shelly Dometrorch said. “We have a wonderful organization as it is.”

“We have an outstanding fire department, and it needs to be the way it is,” Griggs said.

Cronan, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, said he was not acting as a representative for the association when he wrote the letter, but instead as a concerned citizen of Boone County.

Fire district board members said they thought Cronan represents the association in general, but they had not verified that with the association’s board.

Cronan’s letter indicated that people, including John Williamson and County Commissioner Karen Miller, agreed with his assertion. But both Williamson and Miller said that they supported the volunteer system and that Cronan had not talked to them about the letter.

Griggs would not say who gave him the letter.

The board also voted to give the association’s board until May 1 to pay the $20,000 it owes for rent and other fees from 2006 and to propose a cooperative agreement between the two institutions for the future. The board’s motion will also allow Gordon to write a letter to the board directly, instead of assuming that Cronan had communicated the board’s position to the association’s board after the April 4 meeting, during which the payment and agreement issues were first raised.

“I look upon this deal from the perspective of the (association),” Griggs said. “They have made no official communication to us. They may not even be aware that someone from their organization had done those things, said those things.”

Earlier this month, Cronan asserted in the association’s March 5 newsletter that Gordon might be sitting on the board illegally. And on April 4, Cronan showed up at the fire district board meeting and said he was looking into whether the fire district staff had mishandled the association’s funds in 2005 and 2006. Though finances are separated, the two institutions have shared a bookkeeper since the association’s inception in 1991.

Gordon said that the fire district’s lawyer said that the statute doesn’t apply to him.

Board members said that forensic audits they had done for 2005 and the first half of 2006 would have caught any financial peculiarities.

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