East County Fire Protection District board chairman resigns over board seat vacancy

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gary Fornkahl, board chairman of East County Fire Protection District, added his resignation Monday to a long list of resignations in the fire district, leaving only one board member.

Fornkahl said in a letter filed with the county that his resignation was tied to the vacancy on the board left in April 2007 when a member of the board resigned.

Since then, Pamela Allen, a board member elected to fill the third slot just before the resignation, and Fornkahl have been gridlocked on how to fill the empty position.

Fornkahl called the governing Missouri statute "ambiguous" about how a board should proceed when the two remaining members cannot agree on how to fill vacant spot.

"The patrons of this fire protection district deserve to have an effective board," Fornkahl wrote.

The disagreement over how to best fill the empty board position made it "impossible" for the board members to work together in a productive fashion, he said in the letter.

By resigning, both his spot and that left vacant can be appointed by the circuit court, ending the controversy, Fornkahl wrote.

The statute, while it doesn't specify what actions members should take when a majority cannot agree, does allow the circuit court to appoint someone in the case of only one member remaining.

Last November, Cape Girardeau County Clerk Kara Clark sent a letter to the fire district advising them of upcoming elections. In January, the county received a one-line response from secretary Sheila Hency saying that the district would not be having elections.

Allen had argued for an election, because she wanted the public to decide, she said Tuesday.

"I think everyone that was at those meetings knows how I wanted to have the third position filled," Allen said.

At a meeting in February, Fornkahl, unable to agree with Allen on a nomination, said he thought the spot could just remain empty.

In his letter, he said he wanted the court to appoint a member, and Allen would not turn the matter over to the courts.

"The firefighters wanted the taxpayers to have the choice. That's what Pamela wanted. That's the way it should be," said Stacy Lueder, a firefighter in the district.

While the circuit court does have the authority to appoint someone to the board, a formal request must be filed for a circuit judge to be capable of acting, Circuit Judge William Syler said.

Allen said she plans on being cautious to make sure the proper steps are taken so the court can take action to fill the two empty spots.

Hency resigned last week, along with former chief Jim Hanks, his son, Capt. Jimmy Hanks Jr., the assistant fire chief, a medical officer, and several other firefighters.

Lueder said it's too early to tell if the rash of resignations will affect the district.

"Right now, the firefighters have a positive attitude, and as long as they keep it up, I think it's a positive thing," Lueder said.

Fornkahl declined to comment on his resignation or the vacancy dispute.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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