Open public meetings of the Monarch Fire Protection District can be rare things, so I was sure to attend the open meeting on Wednesday March 22.
The meeting started with an almost empty room. The public outnumbered reporters 4-to-3. The board’s attorney was absent as was Fire Chief Tom Vineyard, who was in Colorado on a ski vacation. (Pretty good for someone on the job three months.)
After the opening Pledge of Allegiance, things got sticky for the Board of Trustees and Sunshine Laws.
In the last two months, Monarch was raked over the coals by the State Auditor’s Office for violating the Missouri Sunshine Law—including open meetings laws. News articles and columns followed, including three in Chesterfield Patch and an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The Sunshine Law requires an agenda to be posted for public review 24 hours before a meeting.
As a regular part of the Monarch meeting, the Board president asks if there are any additions to the agenda. Unless the items are emergencies, any such last second additions are violations of the Sunshine Law.
On Wednesday night there were several last-second additions. Board President Kim Evans added on Tuesday, the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the District and the Firefighters Union Local 2665 to run through 2013.
Treasurer Robin Harris added an “audit response” which we were guessing was to the State Auditor’s rather harsh report. Then Assistant Chief John Borgmann wanted to add a “promotion ceremony” to the “Chief’s Report” section of the agenda.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement
Board president Kim Evans stated that just minutes before the meeting she had received the final version of the agreement which would retroactively cover from January 1, 2001 and to December 31, 2013.
Evans said she thought it was a good agreement because everyone on the board of directors and members of Local 2665 were not happy with parts of the agreement.
She added the new vacation scheduling would go into effect January 1, 2013. Evans then asked for comments.
Treasurer Harris said he had problems with the vacation and time-off sections of the contract. He said if the firefighters’ 24 hour shifts were broken down into eight-hour shifts they would be getting six weeks of vacation a year. He added employees with 15 years on the job would be getting 14 weeks off (3-plus months.) He said employees could use a portion of accumulated sick days for vacation days.
Evans seemed unhappy with the comments.
“I’m disappointed you would try and distort the figures for the media,” she said nodding her head to the three reporters.
Among other things, Harris responded by suggesting the Collective Bargaining Agreement addition to the agenda was not done in a timely manner—and may be in violation of the Sunshine Law, and asked to continue it to the next “Open Meeting” for a vote.
Evans rolled her eyes and placed her head on the dais before her.
Board member Steve Swyers then came up with a suggestion I don’t think I've heard before at a government meeting.
“Let’s take the vote now and if the legal counsel is not comfortable we will rescind the vote and take it at the next meeting,” Swyers said.
Evans then said she withdrew the agreement from the agenda, and they would vote on it at the next meeting April 5. She looked at Asst. Chief Borgmann and said, “We have to get a handle on this. I mean getting all the items on the agenda.”
Later, Harris would withdraw his response to the audit saying it was also too late under the Sunshine Law.
New Insurance Savings
Board Secretary Swyers recommended they approve switching from Standard Insurance to Unum the District would save $24,328 a year.
It seemed odd that Harris and Evans had to share a hard copy of the resolution with Swyers.
Then, Treasurer Harris went over bills. He brought up a item involving FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
There were two $229 lodging charges for Fire Chief Vineyard at a Missouri Valley Fire Chiefs Association conference at Big Cedar Resort near Branson. (Missouri Valley is a multi-state FEMA district.)
Apparently, FEMA was unaware that a recession was impacting local government revenues and held its conference at a RESORT. For poor taxpayers, a better deal would be a regular hotel with a large meeting room on a major Interstate highway.
The district’s training officer Robin Echele brought up a plan to certify three district captains as specialized instructors and eliminate paying outside agencies for it.
Echele said there would be added expense until the captains are certified, but then savings. He recommended paying the three captains an additional $100 per pay period.
Kim Evans suggested that it be $75 a pay period. All agreed to draw up a plan with the $75 pay incentive.
Party, no ceremony
After the Board fired the district’s command staff in November, there were promotions to be made. Asst. Chief Borgmann wanted a promotion ceremony.
Now the Board just had its feet held to the fire by the State Auditor for holding a $26,000 awards party in September, and voting to approve it in a closed meeting claiming it was a “personnel matter.”
So board members agreed this time, that the promotions ceremony would be a fine idea, if they held it at an engine house and had local merchants donate snacks.
“This needs to be a zero cost event,” Evans said. The ceremony will be Wednesday evening, April 25. Harris suggested an engine house solution for the $26,000 party last year, but was shot down.
Fire Truck Replacement Requested
Asst. Chief Borgmann talked about the ongoing maintenance for a 1986 ladder truck that has cost the district $51,560 in repairs over the last five years. He suggested a buying a newer used replacement, or one from a dealer’s inventory for between $650,000 and $750,000. That was taken under advisement until a more detailed report was provided.
Finally there was a demonstration of a security card system to open doors. Harris seemed to let it slip that the need for such a system was to show who and when doors in the administration offices were opened. This was due to a past incident, but no one offered details.
By the end of the meeting two hours later, media outnumbered the public 3-to-2.