A committee affiliated with the Home Builders Association of Greater St. Louis pumped $20,000 into Aaron Hilmer’s and Bonnie Stegman’s bids for seats on the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors.
The Mehlville firefighters’ union, meanwhile, spent roughly $14,335 against them, according to financial disclosure reports filed last week with the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners.
Hilmer took on incumbent Chairman Tom O’Driscoll for a six-year seat on the board in the April 5 election — after the Call went to press. Running unopposed in his past two elections, O’Driscoll has served 12 years on the board.
Steven Mueller also ran for the seat, but did not file a campaign finance disclosure report. By law, candidates raising and spending less than $500 and not receiving more than $250 from any single contributor are not re-quired to file campaign disclosure reports.
Stegman, meanwhile, challenged incumbent Secretary Dave Gralike for a four-year seat. Gralike was appointed in August 2003 to fill a vacancy created by the death of former Chief Joe Gaterman, who was elected in April 2003. The seat normally carries a six-year term.
With a campaign platform of cutting fiscal waste, Hilmer and Stegman frequently have cited excessive sick leave and vacation time, high benefits, including 100 percent dependent insurance coverage, and $950 clothing allowances given to employees. They want to roll back a 33-cent tax-rate hike voters approved in the November election.
The committee affiliated with the Home Builders Association, Friends of the Fire District, donated $20,000 to the South County Citizens for Public Reform, which is supporting Hilmer and Stegman.
Patrick Sullivan, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Greater St. Louis, said home builders want to end the duplication of building inspections and the fees that accompany them.
Municipalities and county governments already require those inspections so fire districts shouldn’t, he said.
“It’s a matter of identifying where do fire districts needlessly provide a duplication of services and then charge a duplication of fees,” Sullivan told the Call. “Those things add to the cost of housing without any benefit to the buyer, the consumer, the resident that’s going to live in that home.”
Hilmer and Stegman have made no promises or commitments to the association, Sullivan said, but have shown the “integrity” to do what he believes is the right thing.
In a press release, Gralike says the inspections are needed for safety and asserts that the home builders have Hilmer and Stegman in their back pockets, the same claim Hilmer and Stegman make of Gralike and O’Driscoll’s relationship with the Mehlville firefighters’ union.
Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters endorsed Gralike and O’Driscoll, spending $14,335 through a political action committee called the Fire Fighters Action Committee to Elect.
The money was spent on yard signs, handouts, a billboard ad and post cards.
The committee raised $13,176 this election cycle. The union accounted for all but $176, which came from Citizens for a Safer South County.
At the same time, Gralike received $3,900 and spent roughly $3,404 from his personal campaign committee, and O’Driscoll raised $10,715 and spent $3,204.
Unions heavily favor Gralike. His contributions included union political action committee contributions from electrical workers, $600; iron workers, $300; hoisting engineers, $300; elevator constructors, $100; firefighters, $100; plumbers and pipefitters, $100; bricklayers, $50; glaziers, $50; and sprinklerfitters, $50. Mehlville employees Steve Mossotti and Tony Rolfes donated $100 and $50 respectively to Gralike, and board Treasurer Dan Ottoline gave $100.
Midwest Trenching gave $600. Budrovich Excavating gave $600, and Guarantee Electrical Co., where Gralike serves as vice president, contributed $400 to his campaign.
Gralike spent money on newspaper ads and fliers.
O’Driscoll received $600 from the campaign account of former Democratic County Councilman Jeff Wagener, who lost a bid in November to unseat state Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay. Wagener and his wife, Suzanne, also donated $250.
Chief Ray Haddock’s wife, Denise, donated $300, and district employee Jim Hampton kicked in $600.
Other contributions to O’Driscoll included Concord Auto Body, $600; Robert Jackson, $600; D.D. Oil Co., $500; Stephen Bahn Realty Co., $150; Tony Grasso III, $200; Robert Bauman, $500; Dwight Wideman, $250; Edward Gilkerson, $250; Robert Bedell, $250; John and Gloria King, $150; and Van City RV, $200.
O’Driscoll received another $3,115 from people giving $100 or less and $100 of anonymous contributions. He also lent $2,000 to his campaign.
In the other corner of the ring, the South County Citizens for Public Reform spent $20,267 to promote Hilmer and Stegman. The committee spent $13,237 on mailings and flyers, $635 on signs and $5,931 on newspaper ads. It raised $25,380, including $1,000 lent by Hilmer and the $20,000 from the Friends of the Fire District.
Other contributors to the efforts of Hilmer and Stegman include Oberon, $600; Hilvin Investment Corp., $500; The Glass Gallery, $250; the Green Park Business Association, $500; AAA Trailer Services, $150; and the Frank Bild Trust, $200.