MFPD voters should elect Gralike and Hilmer to board

It’s hard to believe that Tom O’Dris-coll has served as a member of the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors for 12 years without ever having to face an opponent in an election.

Yet, O’Driscoll has been chairman of the elected board for the past six years.

Until now, O’Driscoll has never had any opposition unless you count members of Local 1889 of the Inter-national Association of Fire Fighters who back in September 2002 told the board they had no confidence in Chief Ray Haddock. Because the ul-timate authority rests with the board, it was a vote of no confidence in the board and O’Driscoll’s leadership.

And as the filing deadline loomed for the April 5 election, it’s certainly no secret that Local 1889 members weren’t exactly thrilled with O’Dris-coll’s leadership — until Aaron Hil-mer filed for a seat on the Board of Directors.

In an almost knee-jerk reaction, Lo-cal 1889 endorsed O’Driscoll in his bid for a third, six-year term. Re-tirees questioned union representatives about their support for O’Dris-coll at last month’s breakfast meeting. Union spokesmen told the group he was “the lesser of two evils.”

That’s an odd term for someone who has mortgaged the fire district’s future giving a union everything it thinks it wants. It just goes to show that some people will never be happy, no matter how much you spoil them.

For example, the last memorandum of understanding between the Board of Directors and Local 1889 was approved in 1999. That three-year pact, covering 2000, 2001 and 2002, provided salary increases ranging from about 15.5 percent to 19.15 percent over the three years.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg, that pact also included:

• Increases in longevity pay — by 1 percent in 2000, by .5 percent in 2001 and by .5 percent in 2002.

• One-hundred percent of dependent coverage for medical, dental and vision coverage — up 10 percent from 1999. That was in addition to the free medical, dental and vision coverage that the district already provided to employees.

• A $200 increase for employees’ clothing allowance, raising it to $950 annually.

• Holiday pay of $200 per year for all employees.

That three-year memorandum, OK’d by O’Driscoll, Dan Ottoline and Jim Abkemeier essentially brought the fire protection district to the brink of bankruptcy as by April 2001 the board voted to seek a 25-cent tax-rate increase.

That tax-rate increase failed, as did another 25-cent tax-rate increase in August 2002.

And then board members did something they had vowed never to do — institute ambulance billing, charging non-residents for ambulance service — something Chief Haddock and the board were opposed to in 2001.

Though the community has been oblivious to exorbitant expenditures during much of O’Driscoll’s tenure, there is hope that thinking members of the community are starting to take notice.

Since being appointed to fill the term of the late Joe Gaterman, Dave Gralike has helped balance budget concerns with em-ployee benefits.

While we weren’t exactly enamored of the district’s public engagement process, the Fire District Advisory Committee for Tomorrow’s Emergency Services, that lead to voter approval of a tax-rate hike last No-vember, we don’t believe the process would have occurred without Gralike.

Even better, members of the community like Hilmer and Bonnie Stegman have come forward vowing to represent taxpayers if elected to the Board. What a novel idea, voters electing people to represent them instead of special interests.

While there is nothing to indicate Mrs. Stegman would not make a fine member of the fire district’s Board of Directors, Mr. Gralike has proved he can balance em-ployees’ needs with the community’s over time with his service so far on the Mehl-ville Fire Protection District board and his past service on the Mehlville Board of Ed-ucation.

Indeed, if one reflects on the stability Gralike has restored to Mehlville Fire Protection District and the mess that’s become of Mehlville School District since he left that board, the only conclusion reasonable people could come to is we need him.

The public has a rare opportunity when it goes to the polls next week.

If MFPD voters elect Gralike and Hilmer to the Board of Directors, they can look to the future knowing our fire and emergency rescue service is still second to no one and the public has regained control of those services.