Chiefs Say: Monarch Fire Board Claims about Chesterfield Bond Issue are a Fallacy
APRIL 1, 2015, St. Louis, Missouri…Four chiefs who left leadership positions at the Monarch Fire Protection District in 2014 want to set the record straight about falsehoods and misinformation promulgated by district board members, including a false claim that firefighters are promoting a $33 million bond issue.
Fire Chief Tom Vineyard, Assistant Chief John Borgmann and Battalion Chief Dave Houston left the district last year because board members Robin Harris and Jane Cunningham routinely interfered with fire service operations, repeatedly criticized firefighter/paramedics, and made false claims about salaries and pension benefits.
In addition, they falsely claimed that the firefighters promoted a $33 million bond issue that would raise local taxes.
Those chiefs resigned or retired early from the district, they say, because the misinformation and constant interference by Harris and Cunningham negatively impacted operations and reduced employee morale to such a low point that highly skilled firefighter/paramedics started leaving the district for other jobs.
“Board members have a fiduciary responsibility, but that responsibility does not include trying to control day-to-day operations of the fire department,” asserts Tom Vineyard, who built a respected career over 25 years that included serving as President of the Greater St. Louis Area Fire Chiefs Association.
“That type of activity by board members is counter-productive for the fire district,” Vineyard says. “It can cause redundancies that cost time and money and encumber the people who actually handle fire suppression and EMS services.”
The three chiefs, as well as Battalion Chief Sean Porter, who was unexpectedly terminated last year without being given any official reason, cite many instances of board member interference in hiring and promotion processes, meddling in firehouse operations, false public statements and condescending insults directed at senior department officers.
The chiefs say those instances include:
· Delaying replacement of a defective ladder truck, a useless rescue boat and other broken service equipment
· Forbidding the fire chief from communicating by phone or email with Central County Emergency 911 dispatch offices
· Paying $230,000 in fees to attorneys that contributed to Harris’ and Cunningham’s board election campaigns
· Suspending an assistant chief without pay after insinuating that he spoke out of turn at a board meeting
· Suspending a firefighter/paramedic without pay who answered questions from media about bullet-proof vests
· Objecting to job promotions of fire service staff members who successfully completed protocols for advancement
· False claims that Monarch firefighter/paramedics are behind a plan for a $33 million local bond issue.
· False claims that Monarch personnel are among the highest compensated in the U.S.
· False claims that legal actions by firefighters are frivolous when, in fact, courts favored the firefighters in lawsuits
· False claims and misinformation about firefighter/paramedic retirement benefits
· False claims and misinformation about reductions in workmen’s compensation costs
· Violating the district’s collective bargain agreement with the International Association of Firefighters
· Eliminating the position of district Public Education Officer filled by a firefighter/paramedic who was disabled
· Waving weeds in a chief’s face in a public board meeting while ordering that firefighters go outside to pull them
“Robin Harris and Jane Cunningham do not understand fire service operations, yet they are trying to run the department and that interference is hurting the department,” said former Assistant Chief John Borgmann.
“The continual insults, condescension and humiliation of chief officers and firefighter/paramedics by Harris and Cunningham are a detriment to the fire service,” said former Battalion Chief Dave Houston.
“Monarch used to be a premier district that people in other districts wanted to join. Today it’s a district that people are quitting because Harris and Cunningham are interfering with operations they don’t understand,” said Borgmann.
When firefighter/paramedics responded to an emergency fire call at a house on the street in Chesterfield where Cunningham lives, Cunningham walked out into her yard when sirens blared as emergency vehicles arrived down the street.
“I went over to talk with her,” said Houston, “because she didn’t leave her yard to see firsthand what was happening just down the street. It seemed incredible to me that a Monarch Fire District board member appeared to be so disinterested.”
“In my experience, Robin Harris and Jane Cunningham often prioritize politics over commitments to public safety,” said Vineyard, who is now fire chief at the O’Fallon Fire Protection District.
The chiefs believe that until there is more public objection to questionable management or intervention by media reporters asking questions, Robin Harris and Jane Cunningham will continue to perpetuate myths to protect their positions on the board and Monarch’s fire service community will be the victims.