Controversial Missouri Chief Forced Out

Fire Chief Steve Paulsell announced Tuesday afternoon he has been forced to retire after 31 years as chief of the Boone County Fire Protection District.

Paulsell said he received an ultimatum Friday night from the fire district's five-member board of directors to either accept a retirement agreement or face termination.

Convening an afternoon news conference outside fire district headquarters, Paulsell did not elaborate on a retirement agreement he made with the board of directors. Instead, he read aloud from a prepared statement that included pointed criticism of board members and addressed controversy that has surrounded him for more than three years.

Paulsell said he has welcomed controversy during his tenure as chief because it encouraged public input. "More recent controversies, on the other hand, have been based on personal agendas, retaliation and power struggles and have detracted from the mission at hand," he said.

Paulsell said the board of directors has not given him an explanation of what led to the ultimatum. He said he received a retirement offer on Nov. 14 and had offered to cut his salary of more than $177,000 instead of leaving the fire district.

His salary had been a subject of discussions among board members after a consultant's study determined it was about $25,000 above the maximum of a salary range for the chief.

John Sam Williamson, who was elected in April, was the only board member to attend Paulsell's announcement.

The board met for three hours Tuesday in a closed meeting to discuss personnel before Paulsell's announcement. The board was to have a regular open meeting, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

In a news release later Tuesday afternoon, board members said Paulsell's retirement was effective today. Paulsell said his retirement would be effective Jan. 1 but that he would no longer be serving as fire chief.

"The board wishes to state that we have complete confidence in our career staff and volunteers to continue serving the citizens of the district and we plan to appoint an interim chief within the next week," chairman John Gordon said in the news release.

Paulsell warned in his prepared statement of increased taxes for fire district residents as the district fills the ranks of those who leave the volunteer ranks. He also hinted at a movement toward a paid and unionized fire protection force.

"I have reached the conclusion that I can no longer work for a board that chooses to operate in this manner," he said. "Our philosophies of leadership and service are diametrically opposed."

Paulsell, 57, helped organize the fire district in 1970 and became the district's first employee in 1972. He has been the organization's only full-time fire chief since 1977.

Paulsell said he would take some time off to relax before considering his professional future.

Republished with permission from The Columbia Daily Tribune

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