As a Chesterfield resident for 27 years served by the tax-payer supported Monarch Fire Protection District in St. Louis County, I am very concerned by what I observe to be questionable management and political cronyism by the Monarch Board of Directors.
On Thursday, March 13, citizens learned that the Monarch Fire Protection District exceeded its 2013 budget by $725,000 that includes more than $400,000 for legal fees and board member indemnification insurance, a type of insurance no other fire district board in greater St. Louis has felt the need to acquire.
This overage amount includes about $230,000 in fees paid to two attorneys who contributed cash to the Board election campaigns of Monarch Board President Robin Harris and Board Secretary Jane Cunningham.
This political cronyism is one reason why the Monarch District is woefully over budget and many Chesterfield citizens are outraged.
It is important to note that all Monarch Fire Protection District budget items in 2013 managed by Monarch fire chief officers — not by the Board — were under budget, including for building maintenance, overtime and firefighter/paramedic salaries.
In announcing on March 19 that she will not run for the post of St. Louis County Executive, Ms. Cunningham said the District has “made major strides in cleaning up a fire district badly in need of it” since she was elected to the board last year. Ms. Cunningham is taking credit for improvements and cost efficiency that Monarch Firefighters/Paramedics initiated before she was elected to the board, including for worker’s compensation claims.
In truth, worker’s compensation claims in the Monarch Fire Protection District have significantly decreased since 2010 — from 49 total claims in 2010 to 43 total claims in 2012 – with comparative reductions in related total costs totaling $730,338 – a cost reduction of more than 63 percent.
Moreover, as of May 15, 2013, Monarch’s total worker’s compensation premium costs declined by more than 15 percent compared to those in 2012 while, at many other fire protection districts in greater St. Louis, premium costs skyrocketed. In another local fire protection district, for example, total worker’s compensation premium costs increased by more than 67 percent in the comparable period for 2012 and May 2013. (Source: MoFAD data for 2012-2013). These and other improvements occurred after the April 2011 Monarch board election, when Steve Swyers was elected to the board and he began to introduce new policies and programs.
As a St. Louis County citizen who relies on emergency services bravely provided by District firefighters and paramedics, who respond to more than 6,500 emergency calls per year, I am concerned and disappointed with the Board’s current budget excesses and cronyism politics.
When I learned that the Monarch board exceeded its 2013 budget by $725,000 including money to pay for the services of lawyers who donated to both Cunningham’s and Harris’ election campaigns, I began to wonder how these elected officials — who claim to serve to our citizens with integrity — can validate the need for expenditures including for obvious “political payback.”
In response to the District’s $725,000 budget overage, Ms. Cunningham used Twitter to simply announce “Tax revenues down in county. Monarch leaders committed to calling on staff to join us in finding savings to live within our means.”
That is a paltry explanation. Perhaps Ms. Cunningham is too busy to respond to voters who elected her to the Monarch Fire Protection District Board. After all, she admits she is now seriously considering running for the state Senate in Missouri’s 26th District.
Before running for another political office, Ms. Cunningham should address the political cronyism and budget excesses that voters will remember as her legacy at the Monarch Fire Protection District.
Russell Lake Chesterfield, Missouri