St. Louis Call Newspapers

Call The Tune: Mikolay the best choice for Mehlville fire board

Mike Anthony

For the first time in recent memory, voters will have a real choice when they go to the polls next week to elect a new member of the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s Board of Directors.

Joseph Gaterman, John Mikolay and Bonnie Stegman are vying for one seat on the fire district’s Board of Directors in the Tuesday, April 8, election. James Abkemeier Jr., who currently holds the seat, did not file for election to a second, six-year term.

Another first for Mehlville Fire Pro-tection District voters is the quality of all three candidates.

Mr. Gaterman worked 28 years for the Mehlville Fire Protection District and served as chief from January 1992 to June 1998 when he retired.

After his retirement, Mr. Gaterman was appointed to the Board of Direc-tors when member Bob Pennick resigned. Mr. Gaterman served on the Board of Directors from June 1998 until April 1999 when Daniel Ottoline Sr. was elected to serve the remaining two years of Mr. Pennick’s six-year term.

Mr. Mikolay, a personnel analyst and investigator for the St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, has served on the St. Louis Commun-ity College Board of Trustees since 1998 and previously served a three-year term on the Mehlville Board of Education.

Mrs. Stegman is a registered nurse and serves as emergency medical services coordinator for St. Anthony’s Medical Center. Mrs. Stegman previously ran for the board in 1999 when Mr. Ottoline was elected.

Remarkably, the three candidates are in agreement with most of the ma-jor issues facing the district and all disagree with the direction the district is headed under the leadership of Chief Ray Haddock.

One exception would be ambulance billing, which Mr. Gaterman and Mr. Mikolay believe should be reconsidered, while Mrs. Stegman supports the current policy.

While any of the candidates would serve the public well, we believe John Mikolay is the best choice to serve on the Mehlville Fire Protection Dis-trict’s Board of Directors given the district’s current problems.

Mr. Gaterman has had a distinguished career in the fire service, but what the Mehlville Fire Protection District board needs is a community resident who has no ties – past or present – to the district.

Mr. Gaterman is far too close to the district, not to mention the fact that one of his sons serves as a Mehlville firefighter.

Mr. Gaterman believes he can withdraw himself from discussions and decisions on issues that might present a conflict. While he might be able to do that, at the very least a perception of a conflict of interest will linger – something the fire district can ill afford at this crucial time in its history.

Mr. Mikolay can bring a fresh, independent perspective to the fire district’s Board of Directors and that’s exactly what’s needed to solve the district’s financial problems and to restore the district’s image in the eyes of the community.

While Mrs. Stegman would be a welcome addition to the Mehlville Fire Pro-tection District’s Board of Directors, we do not believe she has the same level of experience that Mr. Mikolay possesses – experience that will be essential to help guide the fire district through its current financial crisis and restore the community’s confidence in the board.

As a member of the Mehlville Board of Education during some of the school district’s darkest days in the mid-1990s, Mr. Mikolay always could be counted on to do the right thing. His more recent service on the St. Louis Community College Board of Trustees has enhanced his experience as a public servant.

During a recent candidate forum, Mr. Mikolay demonstrated he has done his homework on the Mehlville Fire Protec-tion District as his knowledge of the district and its operations was masterful.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of the Mehlville Fire Pro-tection District.

At a time when the district should be celebrating 50 years of excellent service to the community, the district instead is in financial turmoil and the community lacks confidence in an administration and board that repeatedly have failed to perform their fiduciary responsibilities on behalf of taxpayers who are footing the bill.

We believe Mehlville Fire Protection Dis-trict voters will make one of the most im-portant decisions in the fire district’s history when they go to the polls next week.

During his service on both the Mehlville Board of Education and the St. Louis Com-munity College Board of Trustees, Mr. Mikolay consistently has demonstrated he can make the tough decisions – including the ability to say “no” – that often are re-quired of elected officials.

If Mehlville Fire Protection District voters want someone who will stand up and represent their interests on the fire district’s Board of Directors, then they should not hesitate to vote for John Mikolay next Tuesday.

Call The Tune

Mike Anthony

Mike Anthony

Gov. Bob Holden made the right decision when he vetoed legislation that would allow Missouri residents to carry concealed weapons.

In his veto letter, Gov. Holden outlines several compelling reasons for vetoing the measure approved by the Missouri Legislature, including:

• His contention the measure violates a federal law that prohibits any person convicted of the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from possessing or receiving firearms or ammunition. “This legislation, however, allows a person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime to apply for and receive a permit for a concealed weap-on,” the governor stated.

• His contention that the measure in-adequately protects the safety of residents because permit holders can carry concealed weapons into places that should be off limits to weapons. “These areas include restaurants and portions of airports, as well as stadiums and sports arenas seating less than 5,000 people such as little league baseball fields,” the governor stated.

• His contention that the measure violates the spirit of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law. The measure states, “(I)nformation regarding any holder of a certificate of qualification or a concealed carry endorsement is a closed record.” We wholeheartedly agree with Gov. Holden, who states, “There is absolutely no defensible public policy that justifies keeping this information — which otherwise would be open pursuant to the state’s Sunshine Law — from the public and press of the state.”

• His contention that “the citizens of Missouri have already clearly de-cided that they do not wish to authorize the carrying of concealed weap-ons in this state.” This probably is the most compelling reason cited by Gov. Holden, who notes that in April 1999 voters statewide rejected a concealed-carry proposal that was much more protective of public safety than the legislation approved by the Gen-eral Assembly this year.

Interestingly enough, this was the same argument that Republican legislators put forth in refusing to place tax increases on gasoline and cigarettes before voters. At least voters would have been able to decide those issues, unlike the concealed-carry bill that was approved by the Legislature.

Given that, Republican legislators apparently only want to adhere to the will of the people when it promotes their own agenda.

Call The Tune

Mike Anthony

Mike Anthony

It’s certainly no secret that we haven’t always agreed with Mehlville Board of Education member Matthew Chellis.

Frankly, we’ll never be able to understand or agree with Mr. Chellis on some issues. But on financial matters, he has demonstrated an uncanny ability to ask questions that are right on the money, so to speak.

Mehlville residents certainly will remember that Mr. Chellis was the only board member to vote against placing Proposition P on the Novem-ber 2000 ballot.

In fact, Mr. Chellis even formulated a counter proposal to what the district’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Facilities had recommended to the board. Though we didn’t agree with his proposal, he should be commended for bringing it forth.

Mr. Chellis also should be commended for the questions he asked since voters approved Proposition P, a nearly $68.4 million building im-provement program funded by a 49-cent tax rate increase. When the board voted 6-1 in October 2001 to approve a $72.4 million budget for Proposition P, Mr. Chellis cast the dissenting vote.

Interest on the bond-like certificates of participation issued to fund Prop P allowed the construction budget to in-crease to $72.4 million.

Mr. Chellis said he voted against the budget because the 49-cent tax-rate increase was designed to fund projects totaling $68.4 million.

“I think the tax rate should be rolled back at an earlier date than it otherwise would be to return our windfall — the $4 million — to the taxpayers who provided the funds in the first place,” he said then.

The district now estimates the 49 cents will generate nearly $26 million more through 2020 than is required to retire the bond-like certificates.

Mr. Chellis also asked what other estimated expenditures were not in-cluded in the $72.4 million budget.

“At this point, some general conditions, but that could be paid for in contingency if in fact we have some contingency left; furniture, depending on what we decide to do with furniture — that’s kind of an unknown situation,” then-Superintendent John Cary replied at the October 2001 meeting.

We learned last week — almost two years later — those “general conditions” are projected to cost $3,321,212 and furniture, fixtures and equipment are projected to cost $2,154,704.

Good questions, Mr. Chellis. We urge you to keep asking them.

Call The Tune

Mike Anthony

Mike Anthony

Fairness.

That word was repeated over and over during a presentation made last week to the Mehlville Board of Education by the district’s Grading Scale Review Committee.

The issue of fairness was raised by each of the committee members who addressed the board — administrators, teachers, parents and students. In fact, it was a concern about fairness that led the Board of Education to establish the committee to review the district’s grading scale in the first place.

During three meetings, members of the Grading Scale Review Committee thoroughly examined the advantages and disadvantages of changing the current grading scale, including how Mehlville’s grading scale compared to the ones used by other area school districts.

The committee ultimately recommended the district adopt a new 10-point grading scale and the school board voted unanimously to do so.

Effective with the 2003-2004 school year, the district’s grading scale will be: A — 90 percent to 100 percent, Outstanding Achievement; B — 80 percent to 89 percent, Above Average Achievement; C — 70 percent to 79 percent, Average Achievement; D — 60 percent to 69 percent, Below Average Achievement; and F — 0 percent to 59 percent, Unsat-isfactory Achievement.

The current grading scale is: A — 92 percent to 100 percent, Outstand-ing Achievement; B — 83 percent to 91 percent, Above Average Achieve-ment; C — 74 percent to 82 percent, Average Achievement; D — 65 percent to 73 percent, Below Average Achievement; and F — 0 percent to 64 percent, Unsatisfactory Achieve-ment.

The issue is one of fairness as we believe the current grading scale is unfair in that it holds Mehlville students to a higher standard than the vast majority of other area school districts as well as most colleges.

Incoming Superintendent Tim Rick-er emphasizes the new grading scale does not mean Mehlville is lowering its academic standards.

We agree. Just consider the fact that Mehlville received 148 of a possible 149 points on its Missouri School Improvement Program evaluation and the state’s Distinction in Performance Award.

We believe committee members should be applauded for their hard work as should the school board for acting promptly on the panel’s recommendation.

Call the Tune

Call the Tune

Only the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District can transform a simple request for information into another reason why the district should have an elected Board of Trustees.

But district officials have done just that in response to a request from longtime MSD observer Tom Sullivan, who had the temerity to request the names, addresses, telephone numbers, fax numbers and e-mail addresses of the six appointed members of the district’s Board of Trustees.

In response to Mr. Sullivan’s recent request for information, MSD Secretary-Treasurer Karl J. Tyminski provided the names of the six board members — Dee Joyce-Hayes, Marian A. Rhodes, Claude Brown, Joan M. Swartz, Bart J. Margiotta and Robert J. Baer — but declined to provide any additional information.

“The district does not give out the personal information of the trustees,” Mr. Tyminski responded in an April 18 letter to Mr. Sullivan. The letter also noted that Mr. Sullivan can contact board members through Sheri Nackley, secretary to the Board of Trustees.

Mr. Sullivan apparently found that response as unsatisfying as we did because he made a second request for the same information.

“Please see the attached memorandum from our legal staff that includes a quote from the Sunshine Law indicating why these records are closed,” Mr. Tyminski wrote in a May 5 letter to Mr. Sullivan.

The accompanying memorandum written by attorney Paula Eckrich of the district’s legal staff states that under the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law, the district does not have to disclose the addresses and telephone numbers of members of the Board of Trustees in response to a request for such information.

The memorandum cites one of the exemptions to the Sunshine Law that authorizes public governmental bodies to close meetings, records and votes to the extent they relate to the following:

“Individually identifiable personnel records, performance ratings or records relating to employees or applicants for employment, except that this exemption shall not apply to the names, positions, salaries and lengths of service of officers and employees of public agencies once they are em-ployed as such.”

The attorney’s memorandum further states: “Certainly, home addresses and home phone numbers would classify as ‘in-dividually identifiable personnel records’ which are clearly authorized to be closed. I believe we are only required to give the names, positions, compensation and length of service on the board. Additionally, anyone has access to these board members by leaving messages at the MSD general telephone number or by attending the meetings.”

The Sunshine Law is designed to promote open access to meetings and records of public governmental bodies. Leave it to the MSD to expend time and money in an effort to pervert the law’s intention and limit access to what clearly is public information.

We believe the exemption cited by the MSD’s legal staff applies solely to MSD employees or prospective employees and not appointed members of the Board of Trustees. Just consider the exemption itself, which states: “… This exemption shall not apply to the names, positions, salaries and lengths of service of officers and employees of public agencies once they are employed as such.”

Informational material about the Sunshine Law published by Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon states, “Generally, an employee is one who receives wages or a salary from the government.”

We believe the $25 trustees receive for each meeting they attend hardly qualifies as a salary or wages. Furthermore, the attorney general also notes, “… Independent contractors, members of volunteer citizen boards and elected officials are not employees for the purposes …” of another Sunshine Law exemption that permits closed meetings to discuss “hiring, firing or promoting of particular employees by a governmental body when personal information about the employee is discussed or recorded.”

We contend that the appointed trustees are serving as volunteers, therefore, the Sunshine Law exemption cited by the MSD legal staff does not apply to them. In addition, if the MSD Board of Trustees was an elected body, candidates for the board would have to disclose their address when they filed to seek election.

As we’ve said before, the MSD Charter needs to be amended so the public — not the county executive or the St. Louis mayor, both of whom currently appoint the trustees — can decide who serves on the board. Such a measure would go a long way toward ensuring that trustees would be accountable to the public and not the politicos who currently appoint them.

Ironically, when St. Louis County Executive George R. “Buzz” Westfall provides information to the County Council about people he is appointing to boards and commissions, that documentation includes addresses and other information about the appointees. Furthermore, most governmental bodies routinely make available the names, addresses, telephone numbers and even e-mail addresses of their members and those of volunteer boards and commissions. In fact, many governmental bodies include such information on agendas and other information related to meetings.

Only the MSD with its long history of questionable compliance with the Sunshine Law would consider such information secret.

In an effort to restore the public’s confidence in the MSD, County Executive Westfall and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay asked for and received the resignations of five members of the six-member MSD Board of Trustees. They then appointed five new board members.

We believe all six members of the Board of Trustees should direct Mr. Tyminski to provide the information Mr. Sullivan requested or they should resign their volunteer positions because the public they serve has a right to know where they live.

If they’re unwilling to grant Mr. Sullivan’s request, a logical conclusion is that they will have no problem continuing the district’s long tradition of questionable compliance with the Sunshine Law.

Call The Tune

Mike Anthony

Mike Anthony

For the first time in recent memory, voters will have a real choice when they go to the polls next week to elect a new member of the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s Board of Direc-tors.

Joseph Gaterman, John Mikolay and Bonnie Stegman are vying for one seat on the fire district’s Board of Di-rectors in the Tuesday, April 8, election. James Abkemeier Jr., who currently holds the seat, did not file for election to a second, six-year term.

Another first for Mehlville Fire Pro-tection District voters is the quality of all three candidates.

Mr. Gaterman worked 28 years for the Mehlville Fire Protection District and served as chief from January 1992 to June 1998 when he retired.

After his retirement, Mr. Gaterman was appointed to the Board of Direc-tors when member Bob Pennick resigned. Mr. Gaterman served on the Board of Directors from June 1998 until April 1999 when Daniel Ottoline Sr. was elected to serve the remaining two years of Mr. Pennick’s six-year term.

Mr. Mikolay, a personnel analyst and investigator for the St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, has served on the St. Louis Commun-ity College Board of Trustees since 1998 and previously served a three-year term on the Mehlville Board of Education.

Mrs. Stegman is a registered nurse and serves as emergency medical services coordinator for St. Anthony’s Medical Center. Mrs. Stegman previously ran for the board in 1999 when Mr. Ottoline was elected.

Remarkably, the three candidates are in agreement with most of the ma-jor issues facing the district and all disagree with the direction the district is headed under the leadership of Chief Ray Haddock.

One exception would be ambulance billing, which Mr. Gaterman and Mr. Mikolay believe should be reconsidered, while Mrs. Stegman supports the current policy.

While any of the candidates would serve the public well, we believe John Mikolay is the best choice to serve on the Mehlville Fire Protection Dis-trict’s Board of Directors given the district’s current problems.

Mr. Gaterman has had a distinguished career in the fire service, but what the Mehlville Fire Protection District board needs is a community resident who has no ties – past or present – to the district.

Mr. Gaterman is far too close to the district, not to mention the fact that one of his sons serves as a Mehlville firefighter.

Mr. Gaterman believes he can withdraw himself from discussions and decisions on issues that might present a conflict. While he might be able to do that, at the very least a perception of a conflict of interest will linger – something the fire district can ill afford at this crucial time in its history.

Mr. Mikolay can bring a fresh, independent perspective to the fire district’s Board of Directors and that’s exactly what’s needed to solve the district’s financial problems and to restore the district’s image in the eyes of the community.

While Mrs. Stegman would be a welcome addition to the Mehlville Fire Pro-tection District’s Board of Directors, we do not believe she has the same level of experience that Mr. Mikolay possesses – experience that will be essential to help guide the fire district through its current financial crisis and restore the community’s confidence in the board.

As a member of the Mehlville Board of Education during some of the school district’s darkest days in the mid-1990s, Mr. Mikolay always could be counted on to do the right thing. His more recent service on the St. Louis Community College Board of Trustees has enhanced his experience as a public servant.

During a recent candidate forum, Mr. Mikolay demonstrated he has done his homework on the Mehlville Fire Protec-tion District as his knowledge of the district and its operations was masterful.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of the Mehlville Fire Pro-tection District.

At a time when the district should be celebrating 50 years of excellent service to the community, the district instead is in financial turmoil and the community lacks confidence in an administration and board that repeatedly have failed to perform their fiduciary responsibilities on behalf of taxpayers who are footing the bill.

We believe Mehlville Fire Protection Dis-trict voters will make one of the most im-portant decisions in the fire district’s history when they go to the polls next week.

During his service on both the Mehlville Board of Education and the St. Louis Com-munity College Board of Trustees, Mr. Mikolay consistently has demonstrated he can make the tough decisions – including the ability to say “no” – that often are re-quired of elected officials.

If Mehlville Fire Protection District voters want someone who will stand up and represent their interests on the fire district’s Board of Directors, then they should not hesitate to vote for John Mikolay next Tuesday.

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Call The Tune: Mikolay the best choice for Mehlville fire board