Member Takes Lonely Stance on Missouri Fire Board

An effort by one member of the Boone County Fire Protection District board to hire an outside consultant and take other steps in response to allegations of mismanagement among district administrators fell flat yesterday.

Board Chairman Willis Smith and member Myrtle Rapp did not act on a motion by John Gordon to hire "a qualified, professional and independent consulting firm to evaluate our present organizational structure, compensation packages and firing procedures."

Smith and Rapp voted instead to hire a local "communication specialist" they said will cost less than a consultant and will examine communication to and from the fire district. Gordon voted no.

Fire Chief Steve Paulsell, a target of the allegations by former fire district volunteers, will lead the search for the communication specialist.

Gordon, defeated in his attempt to hire a consultant just minutes before Smith?s and Rapp?s votes, said he will not support the hiring of a specialist who likely will not address issues such as organizational structure, compensation packages for fired employees and hiring and firing procedures. "We are allowing the chief to establish the parameters" of the search, he said. "That is difficult for the public to understand when he is perceived as part of the problem. All we are doing is strengthening that."

The board voted in a closed session in July to consider hiring a consultant, but Rapp and Smith have since aired concerns about the cost of conducting a nationwide search. They also have said they?re unsure a consultant would be able to accurately diagnose problems in the district.

A communication specialist could examine "internal and external communication" including the board?s interaction with reporters and communication among employees and managers within the fire district, Rapp said after a meeting yesterday.

No timeline was set on when the specialist will be hired, and Paulsell will lead the search despite a recommendation from the chief that he be "taken out of the equation."

The allegations center on Paulsell and his girlfriend, Assistant Chief Sharon Curry. Two former battalion chiefs have said both administrators have engaged in "inappropriate" activities at the fire district, including intimidating and verbally abusing employees and volunteers.

Battalion chiefs Todd Burke and Jerry Jenkins - both unpaid volunteers - were relieved of their duties last week after Paulsell said they had become "distractions" to other firefighters. The fire chief said the action was not retaliation for being the first to publicly comment on the allegations, during the July 21 board meeting, against Paulsell and Curry.

A paid employee, Chief of Staff Rob Brown, also was fired during a closed session last week.

Gordon, who voted against the dismissals of all three men, has been the board?s lone proponent of hiring a consultant to sort through the allegations.

"We need objective and independent opinions from qualified people," Gordon said after Rapp and Smith declined to vote for his motion to hire a consultant. "Once again, we?ve jumped over the problems. We must identify the problem before we go out and find a solution."

Gordon then requested several hundred pages of documents from the fire district, including board minutes; contracts with outside vendors; employment contracts; copies of personnel files for terminated volunteers and employees; correspondence and memos on board actions related to compensation packages for full-time employees; and a list of all employees? salary and benefits packages.

The board also passed motions made by Gordon to discuss increasing the size of the board from three members to five members and to move the time of scheduled board meetings from noon to later in the day.