Elected member not sworn in after April election

Following the first contested election in a number of years, the newest member of the Monroe City Rural Fire District (MCRFD) board said the board should comply with bylaws to hold monthly meetings.

Gary McElroy, who previously served as fire chief in Monroe City, was set to be sworn in at the board’s June 22 meeting, the first meeting held nearly 80 days after he was elected in the April 4 municipal election. But when longtime board member Kenneth Wilson retired, the official swearing in didn’t yet take place. McElroy said he and other members forgot about the process as the meeting progressed, noting previous board members have been appointed to their roles rather than elected.

After Board President Tim Quinn, Vice President Phillip Potterfield and Secretary Jason Clark were appointed, McElroy said that he intended to adhere to the district’s bylaws and conduct a monthly public meeting — a point of some contention between him and Quinn, who makes the decision to convene board meetings.

McElroy said that he felt the board needed to communicate with the public about the $100,000 of rural money that comes to the district each year. He said he promised citizens during his campaign that the board would meet the second Tuesday of each month.

“One of my big concerns — and it has always been, if you remember, even when I was fire chief — was we need to meet monthly,” McElroy said. “I don’t care if it’s 10 minutes. It’s a law that you need to meet monthly.”

McElroy contended that there is a state statute that requires monthly meetings for fire boards, but Quinn said certain criteria need to be met for the meetings to be necessary. After some discussion, Quinn and McElroy agreed they would each review board bylaws to confirm the provision of a monthly meeting.

Whether and when a rural fire district must conduct meetings is not clear, 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.

McElroy told the Salt River Journal — a weekly newspaper by the Courier-Post — he is frustrated, as are many voters he has talked with in recent weeks. Prior to the June 22 meeting, he said there had been no response to questions about when a meeting was to be scheduled. The previous MCRFD board member last took place in October 2016.

“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.”

McElroy was the top vote-getter in the April election, with 522 votes. However, due to an error by the fire district, Ralls County voters within the district did not have the opportunity to vote on MCRFD board members. The number of ballots cast in that part of Ralls County could have changed the result of the election, as second place vote-getter Phillip Potterfield narrowly defeated third-place challenger Mark Greening. Two spots on the board were up for grabs.

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.

Quinn said the fire district’s boundaries are established by the courts, but McElroy said he didn’t want neighboring fire protection districts to be able to absorb the district through a petition if meetings aren’t being held. Fire Chief Rich Enochs confirmed that boundaries could be taken away by other departments if an issue arises, although he noted that relationships between area fire departments is stronger than ever before.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com