What if an election were held and eligible voters were denied the right to decide on candidates? Or, two-and-half months after the election were certified, the candidate who got the most votes was still not officially in office?

What if an election were held and eligible voters were denied the right to decide on candidates? Or, two-and-half months after the election were certified, the candidate who got the most votes was still not officially in office?

For the small Monroe City Rural Fire District, that is exactly what has happened. Some 10 weeks after the April municipal election — about 75 days — the candidate who got the most votes, Gary McElroy, had not been sworn in office because the district has not scheduled a meeting. McElroy confirmed that a meeting has finally been scheduled for Thursday, June 22.

Some background: The fire district straddles four counties — Monroe, Ralls, Marion and Shelby — the same boundary lines as the Monroe City School District. In the election, about 609 registered voters in Ralls County and the district did not have an opportunity to help decide the race because the board failed to notify Ralls County Clerk Sandy Lanier of the contested race.

It was the first time in its 17-year history that the Monroe City Rural Fire District held a contested race. Voters chose from a field of four candidates for two positions. Previously, because no one ran for the board, its members were appointed.

When the April votes were counted a certified, voters in Ralls County cast 111 ballots in the school board election, which is where the Fire District vote would have occurred. Those votes from Ralls could have made a difference in the election.

McElroy posted 522 votes, and incumbent Phillip Potterfield won the second position on the board with 390 votes, narrowly defeating third-place challenger Mark Greening, who captured 365 votes. Tony Coleman finished last with 122 votes.

The election was certified and the results made official, and while voters in Ralls County could have challenged the results, no one filed an official protest.

However, now, the board has not met to give the oath of office to those who won in April. The decision to convene a board meeting sits with Board Chairman Tim Quinn of Monroe City. The Salt River Journal attempted to contact Quinn to ask when a board meeting would be scheduled. By press time, he had not returned a call, although McElroy confirmed a meeting would take place.

McElroy said he is frustrated, as are many voters he has talked with in recent weeks. He said there has been no response to questions about when a meeting will be scheduled.

“I have no idea what is going on,” he said. “One of the reasons I ran for the position is that the board does not meet to have public discussions of district business. The board collects $100,000 a year. I am not saying anyone is doing anything wrong, but there should be a public review of district business.”

Whether and when a rural fire district must conduct meetings is not clearly, according to the Christine Heisinger, senior legal counsel for the Missouri Secretary of State’s office. A provision in Missouri law governing Fire Districts appears to mandate meetings: “…the board shall meet regularly, not less than once each month, at a time and at some building in the district to be designated by the board,” reads language in Chapter 320 of the Revised Missouri Statutes. However, it is not clear whether that provision applies to rural fire protection districts. The same statute requires an annual accounting of district funds be published and that minutes of all meetings be published, and in following the Missouri Sunshine Law, fire districts are required to give at least 24 hours’ notice of a meeting.

Calls to the Missouri Attorney General’s office for clarification on the laws governing rural fire protection districts were not returned by press time.

For now, McElroy remains a winning candidate who is being denied the opportunity to serve the voters who elected him.

“In my opinion, it tells the voters that the board does not care what goes on the fire district,” he said. “I would be very ticked off that my vote evidently does not count. The person I voted for, and who won, cannot get into office. It’s like I did not even vote.”