Fire district’s desire for transparency further enhanced by new online portal

Data on MFPD expenditures now online goes back to ’06.


The Mehlville Fire Protection District continues to set the bar for transparency, according to the head of a statewide organization.

And that statewide organization, United for Missouri, has been working with the fire district to further enhance that openness through the creation of an online transparency portal. The transparency portal includes data about district expenditures, vendors and employee salaries and benefits.

United for Missouri Executive Director Carl Bearden told the Call last week that the goal in creating the transparency portal was to “make it so that the entity, in this case the Mehlville Fire Protection District, could make as much (information) available to their patrons as possible and make it as user friendly so they could slice and dice it for whatever their information needs were. So I think it accomplished the task.”

Bearden, a former Republican state representative from St. Charles County who served as speaker pro tem, stepped down last summer as state director of Americans for Prosperity to form United for Missouri.

Both United for Missouri and its sister organization, United for Missouri’s Future, are nonprofit groups focusing on local and state issues. Bearden has termed United for Missouri an issue-advocacy organization with United for Missouri’s Future as its “educational arm.”

United for Missouri’s Future is hosting the transparency portal for the fire district.

In launching the two organizations last summer, Bearden praised the efforts of the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s Board of Directors — Chairman Aaron Hilmer, Treasurer Bonnie Stegman and Secretary Ed Ryan — in conducting public business in an open manner and cited the posting of employees’ salaries and benefits for 2009 on the fire protection district’s website —

— as proof of that transparency.

But he also advocated increasing that level of transparency by placing information about expenditures online in a searchable database.

The result is the Mehlville Fire Protection District Transparency portal, which can be accessed through the district’s website and through United for Missouri’s website at


United for Missouri’s Future also is hosting a transparency portal for the Liberty School District, but that online resource only contains information about expenditures — not employee salaries and benefits, Bearden said.

“… To be honest, there’s a stark comparison because as you can see on the Mehlville one, they (are) just wide open and showing people everything,” he said. “Liberty’s been a little more cautious and they’re only showing expenditures and not salaries. So Mehlville’s done a great job of being fully transparent … I’m not aware of any other entity that makes that much data that easily and readily available.”

Besides employee salary and benefit information for 2009 and 2010, the fire district transparency portal currently contains data about more than $22.5 million in expenditures going back to 2006.

The expenditure information available online encompasses nearly 5,300 categories with documentation on 11,827 payments to more than 750 vendors.

The amount and type of data available on the fire district’s transparency portal is “unprecedented,” Bearden said, noting it’s a continuation of the transparency the current board has been promoting since taking office.

“… I think that Mehlville, particularly since Aaron and the current board took over have obviously made a very purposeful outreach to becoming more transparent and more accountable to their patrons and the transparency portal is just another step in that direction. I think it’s a great step,” he added.

Hilmer agreed, saying, “… This fits so well with everything else that we’ve done at the district. Before we came there, you could kind of understand how people got pension payouts, but you didn’t understand what was going into the pension and we’ve cleaned all that up. We’ve made things where people can really look and see what does a public employee make? What do their benefits cost? And now they can see any ancillary costs at the fire district.”

Information on the transparency portal will be updated quarterly and data from the first quarter of 2011 soon should be online, the board chairman said.

While Bearden had estimated last summer the transparency portal would be up and running within one to two months, it wasn’t operational until this spring.

“It was quite the process and I’ll be the first to admit when Carl Bearden with United for Missouri approached us with this initially, I was, I don’t want to say skeptical, I didn’t really understand the whole vision he had for it,” Hilmer said. “And after seeing it in operation now, all I can say is: Wow. It’s better than I ever anticipated. I think it’s a tremendous boon for the residents of south county or anywhere in the state of Missouri.”

Bearden said he wants Mehlville to get the credit for the transparency portal.

“… As you go through the pages, as far as you know you’re still on their page. Actually we’re hosting the information, but it looks as though you’re on their page and that’s the way we wanted it because they’re the ones doing it actually,” he said. “We’re doing the grunt work on it and all the back stuff, but they’re the ones who should get the credit on it.”

But Hilmer praised the efforts of Bearden and United for Missouri’s Future in making the transparency portal a reality.

“Kudos to Mr. Bearden and his organization. It was quite the effort,” he said. “I know sometimes people say: Well, how much does that cost the Mehlville Fire Protection District to do this? And even if there was a cost, I would have said: Pay it.

“But it really wasn’t as our CFO Brian Bond did a lot of back-and-forth work with them to try to get the right information and not let out the wrong information. It was quite the process, but we’re all very pleased with how it turned out.”

Hilmer said he hopes other governmental entities will take note of the transparency portal and begin placing the same kind of information online.

“… The final product is just tremendous. I would hope that the other entities in south county, the Lindbergh School District, the Mehlville School District, would look at this and perhaps decide that they want to do the same thing,” he said.