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

New group lauds MFPD’s transparency

Group looks to foster ‘models of success’ others can follow.

A new statewide organization believes local governments should emulate the transparency of the Mehlville Fire Protection District.

And that organization, United for Missouri, announced last week that it intends to help the Mehlville Fire Protection District become even more transparent in providing public information to taxpayers.

United for Missouri, based in Springfield, is headed by Carl Bearden, a St. Charles Republican and former Missouri House speaker pro tem. Bearden recently stepped down as state director of Americans for Prosperity. Both United for Missouri and its sister organization, United for Missouri’s Future, are nonprofit groups that will focus on local and state issues. He termed United for Missouri an issue-advocacy organization with United for Missouri’s Future as its “educational arm.”

“… People deserve to know what’s happening at all levels of their government … People are mad today. They want to change Washington, which is great,” Bearden said during a July 14 press conference. “And we need some changes in Washington because it’s not going in the right direction. But in order to really accomplish that, we need to change at home first — from the firehouse to the schoolhouse to the courthouse to Jefferson City. And that’s what United for Missouri is about and United for Missouri’s Future …”

Regarding local issues, Bearden said United for Missouri is looking for “what’s happening right — lessons learned, things that are happening right and on areas that can be improved, and here in Mehlville, we see a lot of things happening right — the changes that have occurred in the district in the last few years, being more accountable to the people who actually pay the bills. I mean that’s just unheard of. I mean how dare you have the audacity to actually be responsive, responsible to the people who pay the bills.”

He praised the efforts of Mehlville’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 district’s website —

— as proof of that transparency.

“… Whether it’s the printing of the salaries or the way that you’ve done business, the transparency that they’ve already added to the district, all those are headed in the right direction … So they’ve done a lot of great work and what we are encouraging and supporting and wanting to work with them to do is to take it even further — a step further. I’ve talked to Aaron about actually putting their expenditures online, their check register online, if you will …,” Bearden said.

For example, someone wanting to know about the cost of fire hoses could visit Mehlville’s website and immediately obtain information about how much the district paid for fire hoses and from which vendors they were purchased.

United for Missouri wants to develop “models of success” for other governments to follow, Bearden said.

“… What we’d like to see happen on these issues is, for instance, Mehlville Fire Protection District would become the model for fire protection districts all across the state. So what they do here would be applied everywhere …,” he said, adding United for Missouri is encouraging the city of Cape Girardeau and the Springfield Public Schools to make their expenditures available online.

As for the cost of making such information available online, Bearden cited the Missouri Accountability Portal, which provides citizens a single point of reference to review how their money is being spent.

“The hue and cry was oh, this is going to cost millions of dollars. The state has a $23 billion budget. It’s going to cost millions of dollars. But in fact when everything was settled … of the $23 billion budget, it cost somewhere in the neighborhood of about $300,000. Now, what’s that — one tenth of 1 percent or something like that? So the cost is very nominal, but the benefit and the trust and the transparency far outweighs the cost I believe in what we’re trying to accomplish here …,” he said.

Expenditure information could be available on the fire district’s website in one to two months.

The statewide organization’s website at

also includes a petition residents can sign “to support what Aaron and the board are doing because as an elected official, as a former school board member at a private school, there is absolutely no shortage of people who want to tell you when you’re doing bad …,” Bearden said.

“It is sometimes difficult to find people who will walk up to you and say: Hey, attaboy. And so what we’re trying to do, particularly on this issue, is get people to say: Hey, you’re on the right track. We want to encourage you and support what you’re doing in this effort and go get them …”

Noting that “our organization is just rolling out,” Bearden said, “… We’re building from scratch. I was the state director for Americans for Prosperity for a little less than three years. We took that organization from 1,200 members in Missouri to 26,000 or a little over. We’re going to do the same thing or better for United for Missouri because this is the message. This is what people are looking for is: OK, I’ve been absent long enough. I tell people we are the owners of this country. We’re the owners of the fire district. We’re the owners of the school district. We’re the owners of every political subdivision that there is, again from the firehouse to Washington.

“The problem is we’ve been absentee landlords … and so we’ve let our tenants just tear up our house. And we need to fix that and Mehlville Fire Protection District is a prime example of how you can go about doing that. And so we can repair the house and that’s what we need to do. We need to get people engaged … We have to educate them. We have to communicate that to them and then we have to activate them, and that’s what our purpose and goal is …”

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