The storm of critical media coverage this year about the Monarch Fire Protection District Board of Directors leads to these conclusions:
It is time for the Monarch board’s attacks on our community’s firefighter/paramedics to stop. It is time for the board to adhere to its budget and serve citizens with more integrity and honesty. It is time for board President Robin Harris and Secretary Jane Cunningham to stop their political antics and stop using the Monarch Firefighters and Paramedics as their “fall guys.”
The board has been widely criticized for exceeding its 2013 budget by $725,000 while failing to effectively maintain equipment and facilities in the district, and for rehiring a former deputy chief who was previously fired after he was embroiled in a gender discrimination lawsuit.
In a July 28 editorial, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch referred to Board Secretary Jane Cunningham as ‘Calamity Jane,’ charging her with petty politics, convoluted logic and questionable ideas.
A fire chief, a battalion chief and an assistant chief respected by their peers and by citizens for decades of experience in the department all resigned from Monarch in the last six months: Why? One reason they cited: “board controversy.”
The department is now under the command of an interim chief as the board searches for potential full-time candidates. As the board struggles for leadership and direction, thankfully the firefighters are keeping our district services intact.
Throughout the controversy, Monarch firefighters and paramedics have maintained emergency service levels and controlled costs without impacting the top quality first response services they provide. Unlike the board, they do not use taxpayer money from the Monarch district budget to pay for lawyers or lobbyists.
All budget items in 2013 managed by Monarch fire officers – not by the board – were under budget, including for building maintenance, overtime and firefighter/paramedic salaries. The firefighters agreed to salary freezes in 2009 and have not had a pay increase in nearly seven years.
In addition, the Monarch firefighters and paramedics donate much of their off-duty time raising money for charity and volunteering to help other people and worthwhile causes, often without seeking recognition.
These brave men and women who serve our district deserve appreciation from citizens for their constant commitment, dedication and passion and absolutely deserve to be regarded with more respect and dignity by the Monarch Board of Directors.
Monarch has become a district whose board members are ridiculed by media and routinely questioned by taxpayers for their management of taxpayer dollars.
The saddest thing of all is that the board is subject to the disdain of other fire districts for how they portray our first responders who serve our community in emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is time for those negative portrayals to stop.