Self-righteous indignation of board critics a real hoot
September 07, 2005 - We can't help but be amused at the self-righteous indignation some Mehlville Fire Protection District residents are directing at the recently elected majority of the Board of Directors — Chairman Aaron Hilmer and Treasurer Bonnie Stegman.
Many of these residents appear to lack an understanding of exactly how government works, not to mention a historical perspective of how the fire protection district's Board of Directors has operated until just a few short months ago.
After practically every meeting of the Board of Directors, these critics ladle out the same tired old soup — that somehow their First Amendment right of freedom of speech is being usurped by the indignity of having to fill out a speaker's card to address the board. Many, many governmental entities require speakers to fill out such cards before they can address the governing body. And, in some cases, filling out a card doesn't guarantee that you'll actually be able to voice your opinion. For years, those critical of the late County Executive George R. "Buzz'' Westfall or his policies often were treated to verbal browbeatings — complete with snide asides — by County Council Democrats.
We find it laughable that these current critics of the fire district board are dismayed at what they term the heavy-handed tactics of Mr. Hilmer, yet some of them don't know how to conduct themselves at a public meeting, yelling, screaming and attempting to disrupt the deliberations of the board.
What's interesting is that none of the current critics of the board had anything to say during the many, many years the former Board of Directors demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the provisions of the Missouri Opening Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law.
Where was the outrage in January 1999 when the Board of Directors voted 2-1 in closed session to place a tax-rate increase on the ballot?
Then-Chairman Tom O'Driscoll and then-Treasurer Jim Abkemeier Jr. didn't have a problem voting behind closed doors to place a tax-rate hike on the ballot. Only former Chief Joe Gaterman, then a member of the Board of Directors, voted against placing the tax-rate hike on the ballot and questioned why the discussion and vote took place in closed session.
The board later rescinded the closed-session vote and that tax-rate hike did not go before voters.
It's also interesting to hear complaints about the length of the board meetings. Where were the current critics on Sept. 28, 1992, when the Board of Directors met 15 minutes in open session and seven minutes in closed session? Where were the current critics on July 1, 1994, when the Board of Directors met for a grand total of nine minutes in open session with no closed session?
And where were the current critics when the board spent more time meeting behind closed doors than in open session? For example, where were the critics in 1999 when the board met 7.783 hours in open session and 28.267 hours in closed session during the first six months of the year?
Where where they in 2000 when the board met in open session a total of 27 hours and 49 minutes and in closed session a total of 34 hours and 2 minutes? Despite all the time spent behind closed doors, just two votes were taken by board members in closed session during 2000.
Where were the current critics in 2001 when the board met in open session a total of 35 hours and 13 minutes and in closed session 40 hours and 37 minutes?
It's also amusing to hear the whining about how the three-member Board of Directors has too few members and the six-year terms of directors are too long.
Where were the current critics in December 1999 when this newspaper urged "our state legislators to change the laws governing fire districts by adopting legislation that would expand the current three-member board to five or seven members, legislation that would make director posts unpaid positions and legislation that would reduce the current six-year terms of directors to two or three years"?
We certainly don't recall receiving much support for those suggestions then. The irony is not lost on us as many of the current critics now fully embrace those suggestions.
Given the calls this newspaper has received, the efforts of these critics — many of whom have family ties to district employees and/or ties to organized labor — are further turning public perception against the very people they are attempting to "protect'' — fire district employees.
We urge Mehlville Fire Protection District residents to attend meetings of the Board of Directors and exercise their constitutional rights. But we also believe they should have all the facts before making outrageous and unsubstantiated allegations of abuse of power.