Board should adhere to law in filling vacancy on board

With the death of former Chief Joe Gaterman and the serious injuries suffered by Board of Directors Chairman Tom O’Driscoll in a traffic accident, the Mehlville Fire Protection District has had more than its fair share of heartache.

Mr. Gaterman’s contributions to the fire district and the community will be remembered for years to come.

Just before Mr. Gaterman lost his battle with cancer in April, he was sworn in as board secretary.

The board has been unable to act to appoint someone to serve in Mr. Gaterman’s seat until an election can be conducted to fill the remainder of his term because it has been meeting sporadically due to Mr. O’Driscoll’s injuries.

We believe the board should fill this vacancy in a different manner than the method it used five years ago when Bob Pennick resigned. Mr. O’Driscoll and then-board member Jim Abkemeier Jr. appointed Mr. Gaterman to fill that seat until an election could be held to fill the remaining two years of Mr. Pennick’s term.

While Mr. Gaterman was an excellent choice to fill the seat, we disagreed with the method in which the vacancy was filled. No applications were sought from the public and the selection was made during a closed session of the board, something we believe is a flagrant violation of the Open Meetings and Records Law.

We believe selecting someone to serve on the board until an election can be held to fill the remainder of Mr. Gaterman’s term is a public process. Applications should be sought from the public, candidates should be interviewed during an open meeting and the selection of the new board member should be made during an open meeting.

In a July 28 letter hand delivered to Mr. O’Driscoll and board Treasurer Dan Ottoline Sr., Call President Bill Milligan wrote that the process of filling Mr. Gaterman’s seat should be a public process. “Please be advised of our opinion that naming a replacement for a deceased director of the Mehlville Fire Protection District does not qualify under either the ‘legal’ or ‘personnel’ exemptions of the Missouri Opening Meetings Law and is not a legal or ethical topic for discussion during an executive (closed) session of the Board of Directors,” Mr. Milligan’s letter stated.

We strongly urge the board to follow both the spirit and the letter of the law, which carries specific penalties for noncompliance.