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Board should reconsider some parts of new policy

Mike Anthony
July 13, 2005 - Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer and Treasurer Bonnie Steg-man are doing exactly what they said they would do when they ran for election last April.

In fact, they've done an admirable job of fulfilling their campaign promises and already have saved the district — and taxpayers — hundreds of thousands of dollars. Both of them obviously are dedicated to serving district residents and they should be commended for their excellent efforts.

That said, we do have some concerns about an open meeting policy they adopted last week designed to regulate public comment.

Frankly, some of the provisions in the open meeting policy were needed. We can recall attending meetings in which district employees regularly would chime in and add their two cents to the board's deliberations.

That's just not appropriate.

Nor do we have any problem with speakers being asked to fill out a card listing the topic they will discuss.

However, we hope that Mr. Hilmer exercises discretion in the three-minute per-person time limit for comments. Some topics just can't be fully covered in three minutes.

We also believe district employees should be allowed to address the board — no matter how distasteful or immature their comments might be.

Interestingly, Local 1889 President Chris Francis is up in arms about the new open meeting policy, yet no district employees or their supporters objected when former board Chair-man Tom O'Driscoll limited speakers whose comments he perceived to be of a political nature before the April election.

But that's typical for Local 1889, which in a lawsuit filed against the board challenging proposed changes to the district's disability plan, allege Mr. Hilmer and Mrs. Stegman violated the Sunshine Law. The irony is not lost on this newspaper as the union for years remained silent when past boards regularly would spend more time meeting behind closed doors than in open session.

The policy also prohibits "personal remarks'' about board members. We hope this doesn't mean residents can't make comments critical of board members and/or decisions they make because that goes with the territory.

We encourage Mr. Hilmer and Mrs. Stegman to reconsider and clarify some aspects of the new policy, in-cluding allowing district employees to address the board.

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