Commentary by Marlyn Flauter – Chesterfield, Missouri
I wish my grandmother was alive to see the insolent and irresponsible behavior by current board members at the Monarch Fire Protection District.
My grandmother was petite but powerful, keenly intelligent and scrupulously honest. She held everyone accountable for their actions, and she encouraged people to speak out against misconduct and wrongdoing.
She would be furious with Monarch board members Jane Cunningham, Rick Gans and Robin Harris.
Jane Cunningham is the woman elected to the fire district board in 2013 after serving for only one term as a Missouri State Senator. In 2011, Cunningham sponsored a bill that would allow businesses to hire children under age 14 and eliminate restrictions on how many hours a day kids 14 or younger could work.
Some people called Cunningham’s bill idiotic and insane. Thankfully, it failed to pass. That is lucky for Cunningham. My Grandma would have tracked her down and admonished Cunningham like only an outraged, child-loving grandmother can do, telling her,“You should be ashamed of yourself!”
As the Monarch board secretary, Cunningham has called the men and women who are Monarch firefighters and paramedics “beasts.” At a political meeting, Jane announced to a room full of people: “We must kill this beast.”
That kind of talk prompted three respected fire chiefs to pack up and leave the district last year. They said Cunningham routinely interfered with fire service operations, repeatedly criticized firefighters and paramedics, made personal insults against them, and made false statements about salaries and pension benefits.
Most people consider firefighters and paramedics heroes. If she were alive, I can hear my grandmother saying: “What is wrong with you, Jane?”
But Jane Cunningham is not the only Monarch board member that some people believe suffer from what Grandma would call “fuzzy thinking.” Robin Harris is another.
The first thing Harris did when he was re-elected to the board in April was violate a State of Missouri rule for district elected officials. The state decrees that fire district officials must be sworn in, and that the oath of office must be administered by the district secretary, or by a county clerk or a circuit judge.
Harris’ oath was administered by a man named Rick Gans who donated $7,000 to Robin Harris’ election campaign. Gans was a private citizen – not a county clerk or circuit judge – when he swore in Harris to the board on April 21. By the way, Jane Cunningham donated $21,100 to Harris’ election campaign.
How did Robin Harris and Jane Cunningham reward Rick Gans’ for breaking the rules?
They appointed Gans to fill the vacancy of Steve Swyers, the Monarch board member who resigned in April because of “falsehoods, half truths, misinformation, creation of an unhealthy work environment,” and what Swyers said is “misuse of public funds by Board President Robin Harris and Board Secretary Jane Cunningham.”
A week before the April election, the Monarch board sent its official newsletter by U.S. mail to district residents. That newsletterwas essentially a campaign promotion for Robin Harris, who was running for re-election to the board.
That newsletter cost taxpayers $20,000. During a KMOX Radio interview Harris confirmed the newsletter cost that much and he asked the KMOX reporter, Maria Keena, if she is a member of a union.
What the newsletter and Robin Harris did not say is that Robin Harris is a union member. Harris has been trying to suppress wages and benefits for union fire firefighters and paramedics at Monarch while his own union is fighting to get more wages and benefits for him.
Harris demands open meetings for firefighter contact negotiations, but his own union wants to negotiate for Harris behind closed doors.
My grandmother would call Harris a hypocrite. That’s not all. At election time, Monarch Fire Chief Chuck Marsonette published a large newspaper advertisement that berated Monarch firefighters and paramedics. That ad cost nearly $1,900.
What kind of tax-supported organization uses public funds to pay for board member election campaign promotions? What type of boss criticizes his employees in newspaper ads?
A few weeks ago, the board created a “Director of Operations” position for a man named Les Crews. Mr. Crews was fired from Monarch in November 2011 with three other Monarch officials after the district lost a gender discrimination lawsuit.
Today, Crews is back at Monarch in a high-paying management job.
A year ago, the board re-hired former Deputy Chief Cary Spiegel as Assistant Chief. Spiegel was involved in the same gender discrimination lawsuit as Crews, and Spiegel also was fired in 2011. Now, he’s back at Monarch in a high-paying management job.
The plot thickens: Rick Gans – who violated Missouri state rules by administering the oath of office to board member Robin Harris — previously served on the Monarch Board until he was defeated by Steve Swyers for a board seat in April 2011.
After Steve Swyers resigned in disgust from the board this year Gans got back on the board a few weeks later with two votes: One from Robin Harris, and one from Jane Cunningham.
Gans is an officer at National Educational Acceptance Corp., which provides billing and collection services to students attending modeling and vocational schools. You can find out more about National Educational Acceptance Corp. from the Better Business Bureau.
With their insolence and misconduct, Jane Cunningham, Richard Gans and Robin Harris seem to believe they are responsible to no one at Monarch, not even the taxpayers.
Speak out against the wrongdoing by the Monarch Board of Directors!