April 10, 2013 - Ed Ryan termed his re-election to the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors a victory for taxpayers.
Ryan, who has served as board secretary since 2007, defeated challenger Mike Klund in last week's election to win a second six-year term on the fire board.
Ryan received 8,075 votes, 63.1 percent, while Klund garnered 4,690 votes, 36.65 percent, according to unofficial results released by the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners.
Klund ran unsuccessfully in 2011 for the seat of MFPD Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer. Klund declined to comment when contacted by the Call.
Hilmer and board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman came to office in April 2005 as a reform slate against union control of the three-member board.
Ryan told the Call his re-election was a victory for the district's taxpayers, because they will continue to have representation on the Board of Directors.
Klund was endorsed by the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, the South County Legislative Labor Club and International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2665. Noting union supporters spent more than $60,000 in their effort to elect Klund, Ryan said their goal is to obtain control over the board.
"They absolutely want to go back to the way it was. Whether it was (Local) 1889 or 2665, they want to be able to control the board ... They want to, as they did in the past, pick who the chief is going to be, and obviously their benefits and perks, I mean they were just mind-boggling ...," Ryan said.
MFPD union employees formerly were members of IAFF Local 1889, but joined IAFF Local 2665 in September 2011.
When Klund challenged Hilmer two years ago, Klund's committee and another committee formed to support his candidacy, Friends of the Mehlville Fire District, raised more than $100,000 for Klund's campaign, mostly from donations by Local 1889 and the national IAFF. Hilmer narrowly won that race, 48.9 percent to Klund's 47.5 percent.
In this year's race, Klund was supported by a new political action committee, or PAC, Citizens for Good Government. The group shares a treasurer, Jennifer Stuhlman, with the Professional Firefighters of Tri-County PAC, which donated $50,500 to the Citizens for Good Government in February, after receiving a $50,000 donation from "Mehlville Fire Fighters."
Hilmer has sued Citizens for Good Government on behalf of the district, alleging campaign-finance law violations, including an effort to conceal the source of political donations. Citizens for Good Government mailed letters and fliers endorsing Klund and attacking Ryan. Stuhlman did not return a telephone call seeking comment about the election.
"... Up to the election and even throughout the day, I didn't have a good feeling, but I should have because a number of people were much more optimistic than I," Ryan said.
Citing the numerous mailings attacking him that were funded by the Citizens for Good Government, Ryan said the campaign tactics used by Klund's supporters were similar to the 2011 election.
"Though the amount was not the same, certainly there was a tide there where you wonder how many people will be convinced with the negative rhetoric? I honestly feel what really took place was the huge number of taxpayers who did not want to go back to the way it was," he said.
Despite Klund's union endorsements, Ryan said he spoke with some union members who said they would not vote for Klund.
"I had calls from union guys who said they had literature from their home office saying, 'Vote for Mike Klund,' and they said, 'I'm not,'" Ryan said. "The reality is I do not consider our group polarized. We're here for all the taxpayers and I think by running an honest board, we achieved that and we continue to build endorsements from the taxpayer."
He said he was appreciative of those who supported him and helped his campaign. Some supporters took their yard signs to polling places where they saw no Ryan signs, he said.
"So many individuals took a personal interest," Ryan said, noting his campaign was more of a grass-roots effort given the $8,615 his committee raised. "Honestly, people took a personal interest and they said, 'Klund was not going to get elected — no way — on their watch.'"
Ryan said he first became interested in the fire district when Hilmer and Stegman ran for office. Among their goals was to roll back a 33-cent tax-rate increase voters had approved for the fire district in November 2004.
"I ran (in 2007) because I worked with them on their election because I was really wondering why in the world they (the district) needed a 33-cent tax hike ...," he said. "Then I looked at how they spent money. They'd spent down their reserves, specifically so they could say, 'Look at what a desperate situation we've found ourselves in.' It was mismanagement."
Ryan said, "I'm very pleased to have been re-elected, primarily to support the reform effort. This is a fantastic fire district ... I'm very pleased with Chief (Brian) Hendricks and his crew."