Tempers flared at the last board meeting of the North Stone Northeast Barry County Fire Protection District.
A resident asked this reporter to attend the meeting after they noted repeated Sunshine Law violations.
When I arrived for the February 20th board meeting there was no posted agenda for the meeting. There are two provisions unique to FPDs in the state’s Sunshine Law. One statute requires that notice of regular public meetings be posted at each fire station, not merely at the FPD headquarters.
That night the board was to be voting on whether or not personnel would be allowed to have firearms on their person when they respond to an emergency. That decision would also cover anyone that enters the districts facilities. Board president Leon Cunningham noted that the FPD's insurance company was instrumental in the decision. "They asked us to look at it," he said.
Last year a NSNEBC firefighter was assaulted by a man in Barry County who didn't think he was working fast enough to battle a blaze on his property. That man pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.
John Mackey and Robert Scott voted for the proposal - Jesse Smith and John Elmore voted against it. A similar policy the board had in place sunseted on February 18, 2014 Board president Leon Cunningham cast the dissenting vote and approved the ban.
But, according to an information packet that Cunningham handed out BEFORE the meeting, he had already cast the deciding vote. "This policy was reviewed and duly passed on February 20, 2014 Board Meeting," the handout stated.
It is unclear, at this point, whether or not the vote taken on February 20th is valid as it was taken at an unofficial meeting due to the absence of a posted agenda.
When asked by email to provide documentation of any correspondence with the insurance company regarding asking the board to "look" into anything, Cunningham was unable to produce any.
Another issue brought to light is how the district conducts business for the repair of fire trucks, vehicle, etc.
It appears that the majority of that work has been funneled to board member Robert Scott who owns Double Eagle Tire and Equipment in Marionville. When board members were asked what the bidding process for those jobs were, Cunningham and fire chief Doug Reavis said there wasn't one, and that Scott was the only person who showed any interest in the repair of the vehicles.
One of the bills approved for payment at the last board meeting was $800 to Scott for vehicle repairs. When asked by email for further documentation of the bidding process such as ads for services and repairs, Cunningham could not produce any.
"All our maintenance is done on as need bases [sic] and most actually involves volunteer services of some type," said Cunningham. "I do not know of any maintenance item that would have involved enough money to of even come close to requiring a bid process. We are required to take bids when the amount is over $10,000.00."
The law actually states that bids are to be solicited if a single repair is over $500 or if a single person or business is paid over $5,000 annually.
"The District’s largest expenses are tied to grants where we follow the grant or statutory guidelines regarding bids," said the board president. "Furthermore, we do not have a maintenance contract due to the fact that over 90% of our work is done in house, without pay."
Another disturbing issue is the lack of titles for vehicles owned by the North Stone Northeast Barry County Fire Protection District. That was discovered when an ambulance the FPD owned was sold for $500. Board member Jesse Smith told board members he was working on getting proper documentation for those vehicles.
What is unclear is how those vehicles are insured due to the lack of a legal title.
When asked where the meeting agenda was posted Cunningham replied, "they must have blown away in the wind."
When pressed as to why there is no bidding process in place, fire chief Doug Reavis looked at the board at said, "we're awfully close to somebody else dealing with it." When this reporter asked Reavis what he meant by that statement, he voted to go into closed session.
The reason given for closing the meeting was to discuss a vendor who provides repair services to the district.
In response to an email asking for minutes and further documentation pertaining to vehicles owned by the district and other issues-- Cunningham responded, "We are forwarding this information to you at no charge but further research, etc. will constitute a charge in accordance with the District's Administrative procedures regarding request under the Sunshine Law."
Further in the email he states to board members, "Strange to me that out of all the meetings over the last two years she just showed up at a meeting that was dealing with the only real deviceve [sic] issue the board has had to deal with."
This reporter contacted Attorney General Chris Koster's office and was told that we couldn't be given an official opinion on the legality of the meeting without a formal complaint being filed.
The next board meting, which the public is invited to attend, is March 20th at 6:30 p.m.
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