South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Employee turnover at MFPD ‘No. 1 complaint’ Kolb hears

Excessive turnover ‘red flag,’ says MFPD candidate Kolb
Jane Kolb
Jane Kolb

The Mehlville Fire Protection District has an excessive number of employees leaving the district for jobs with other fire agencies, according to Board of Directors candidate Jane Kolb of Oakville.

Kolb, who is challenging incumbent board Chairman Aaron Hilmer in the April 4 election, told the Call that the issue of district employees leaving to go to work for other fire agencies “is the No. 1 complaint I’m hearing. We’re paying to recruit and train and then those guys leave, and then we’re paying to recruit and train again.

“And so we’ve got sort of a constant revolving door of people, and that would be a concern of mine if I was a first responder to know that the person I’m working alongside may not have as many years of service as I would like …”

But Hilmer, an Oakville resident, disputes Kolb’s contention about “a constant revolving door of employees.”

At a Tesson Ferry Republican Club meeting last week, Hilmer said that once he learned of Kolb’s claim of an excessive number of employees leaving for other fire agencies, “I called the fire chief (Brian Hendricks) and said, ‘Has anyone come to speak to you about this or requested official district documents on employment?’ He said, ‘No.’ Well, I said, ‘I want to see them.’

“Over the last five years, Mehlville has averaged 2.6 employees a year leaving for other departments. Out of 130 employees, that’s a 2-percent turnover rate …”

On her candidate Facebook page, Kolb wrote, “… Since 2006, there have been 60 new employees added to the roster, and that does not include those who have been recruited and trained on our tax dollars, then hightailed it to another district. That’s almost 50 percent turnover. Why is that? This is a red flag for me …”

Kolb told the Call that she could not attend the Feb. 9 Republican Club meeting because she had to attend a meeting that same night of the Oakville Elementary PTO, of which she is a board member.

Informed about Hilmer’s comment regarding the 2-percent turnover rate for Mehlville employees leaving for jobs in other fire agencies, Kolb said, “Yeah, that does not add up to what I’ve seen on the (district’s) transparency portal and what I’ve been told by people who are actually working there. I mean, 2.5 percent is crazy small.”

Asked if she had spoken with Hendricks regarding employee turnover, Kolb said, “I have not. No, I have to get up there. I will, but I have not …”

Informed that a Call analysis confirmed a 2.02-percent turnover rate for Mehlville employees leaving for jobs in other fire agencies since 2012, Kolb said, “… I will definitely look into it, but that is conflicting from what I learned so far.”

She said she obtained her information from “multiple sources,” including the transparency portal on the district’s website.

Hilmer, who is seeking his third six-year term on the fire board, was elected in April 2005 with board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman. In the months leading up to the 2005 election, Hilmer and Stegman campaigned as reform candidates looking to eliminate fiscal waste and roll back a 33-cent tax-rate increase approved in November 2004.

After their election but before they took the oath of office, five employees — Chief Ray Haddock, Assistant Chief John Schicke, Capt. Robert Hargrave, Capt. Jerry Gibbar and Lt. William Reeves — retired.

Since 2005, 99 employees have departed the district. Nearly a third of those departures — 32 — were due to retirement.

Other departures include two non-duty deaths, four disability or end of benefits, three layoffs, eight terminations and 50 resignations. Of the 50 resignations, 30 employees left to go to work at other fire agencies — an average of 2.5 per year.

Departures by year are:

• 2005 — 13, including six retirements, two non-duty deaths, four resignations and one disability.

• 2006 — Six, including one retirement, one disability, three resignations and one layoff.

• 2007 — 10, including three retirements, one termination and six resignations.

• 2008 — 16, including eight retirements, two disability, two terminations and four resignations. The employees terminated were Robert Strinni and Jeri Fleschert.

Strinni, a firefighter and then-president of Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, or IAFF, and Fleschert, a paramedic and then-secretary of Local 1889, were fired in June 2008 for what district officials termed a violation of the district’s anti-harassment policy.

The IAFF later filed a suit in federal court on behalf of Strinni and Fleschert, alleging they were fired for their union leadership activities. But district officials said the investigation was initiated after board members learned an employee’s cell phone had been stolen and the employee then was harassed because of the telephone numbers the phone contained.

Under the terms of a settlement, the district’s insurance carrier paid $50,000 each to the two and $125,000 to Strinni and Fleschert’s IAFF legal counsel.

• 2009 — 12, including nine resignations and three terminations. One employee terminated was James Kornhardt, who was arrested on federal murder-for-hire charges on Dec. 12, 2008, at the district’s Firehouse No. 5 on Mueller Road in Green Park by agents of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. At the time of his arrest, Kornhardt was vice president of Local 1889.

In June 2010, Kornhardt was found guilty of conspiring to commit murder-for-hire and of committing murder-for-hire in connection with the Oct. 22, 1992, death of St. Louis resident Danny Coleman. The jury of five men and seven women also found Kornhardt guilty of obstruction of justice.

He later was sentenced to life in prison.

Also convicted of the same charges in the federal case was Oakville resident Steven Mueller. He later was sentenced to life in prison. Mueller had sought election to the Mehlville Fire Protection Board of Directors in April 2005, running against Hilmer and incumbent Tom O’Driscoll.

• 2010 — Five, including two retirements, one position eliminated, one resignation and one termination.

• 2011 — Six, including four resignations, one layoff and one termination.

• 2012 — Three, including two retirements and one resignation.

• 2013 — Five, including two retirements and three resignations.

• 2014 — Seven, two retirements and five resignations.

• 2015 — Eight, including four retirements and four resignations.

• 2016 — Eight, including two retirements and six resignations. Among those resigning was Capt. Nick Fahs, who left to serve as chief of the Affton Fire Protection District.

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