Agent for fire group tries to make amends

Thursday, May 17, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:19 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Boone County Fire Protection District chided a board member of the Missouri Association of Fire Protection Districts on Wednesday for letting the association’s attorney publicly accuse the fire district of what board member Shelly Dometrorch said amounts to a crime: stealing.

Greg Brown, an association board member and chief of the Eureka Fire District, attended the fire district’s monthly meeting Wednesday in response to a letter fire district chairman John Gordon sent to the association’s board in May asking the board to address the financial questions raised by the association’s lawyer, Pat Cronan, at the fire district’s April 4 meeting.

Gordon initially questioned the relationship between the two organizations at that meeting. Cronan told the board that the agreement between the fire district and association had never been made formal.

But the informal agreement by which the two organizations had been operating since 1999 included payment by the association to the fire district of $20,000 a year in exchange for an office at fire district headquarters, bookkeeping and use of the fire district’s office staff.

When Gordon brought up the relationship between the two organizations, Cronan accused the board of mismanaging the association’s funds in 2005 and early 2006. He also told the board that because of the question of financial mismanagement, the association hadn’t paid its yearly fees for 2005 and 2006.

Brown, on behalf of the association, expressed a desire to work through the problems with the fire district and said the association had sent a check for half of what it owes the fire district from last year.

“We’ve had such a strong relationship for such a long time, maybe complacency let us slide apart,” Brown said. “But we want to try and build back those bridges.”

And while Gordon said he’d be willing to speak with Butch Oberkramer, the president of the association, the board expressed frustration and displeasure at Cronan’s actions, and at the association for allowing Cronan to act so aggressively.

“If there is any financial issue that anyone is unsure of, a telephone call or e-mail’s an easy way to address that,” board member Dave Griggs said. “We were totally blindsided by Mr. Cronan’s comments.”

Cronan has also made other accusations against the board, including that Gordon is sitting on the board illegally and that Dometrorch and Gordon want to change the district from a volunteer to a paid staff. The board has denied both.

In other action, Ray Davis, a Hallsville resident, asked the board why the fire district is responding to calls inside Centralia, which he says doesn’t pay taxes for fire district protection. Davis asked how much such responses cost the fire district.

“Why are we putting fires out in a non-tax-supported city?” he asked.

Board members weren’t sure of the cost or why the fire district is responding to calls there, but said they were looking into the issue.

“I don’t know the answer to what does it cost, and I would agree that it’d probably be appropriate to meet with folks up there to see what is the issue,” Griggs said. “This is a sticky wicket, I agree with you.”

Fire Chief Steve Paulsell didn’t respond to Davis’s question about why the fire district is responding to calls there, or to how much each deployment might cost.

Gordon said that because the board would want to look into the fire district’s work in Centralia and to discuss the issue with representatives from Centralia, the question couldn’t be addressed immediately.

“It’s going to take a while to untangle it,” Gordon said. “We don’t have answers for you tonight, but it’s something that will be untangled eventually.”

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