EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been re-edited to correct an error. The Missouri Ethics Commission complaint was filed by board member Lori Aufdenberg, not the Millersville Fire District board as a whole.
Two rural fire districts hope Tuesday's election will signal the end of a tumultuous chapter for their fire boards, even as a campaign flier has raised new questions and concerns for current board members in one of the districts.
On Tuesday, Millersville Fire District board member Lori Aufdenberg filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission over a campaign flier included in the monthly bill sent to Public Water Supply District No. 2 customers, said board chairman Jim Roche.
The flier endorsed Janice Robertson, one of the two candidates vying for an open spot on the three-person fire board in next week's election. Robertson, a former board treasurer, is challenging Aufdenberg.
"My problem is that it appears to be interference in the rural fire district's business," Roche said.
Along with the Millersville Fire District, the East County Fire Protection District has a contested board race on Tuesday's ballot. Each district is also seeking voter permission to expand the board from three to five members to boost public participation and confidence.
Roche said he was happy to see a contested race for the board because it shows an increase in interest and participation, but that the flier from a public body crossed the line.
Both federal and state laws prohibit the use of public funds for political purposes.
It is not stated on the flier whether it was paid for by a private party or by the water district.
"There's something not right with this," Roche said.
There was no attempt to misuse public resources or mislead people about the origin of the flier, Robertson said Thursday. She is friends with water board member John Haines and he suggested that the flier could be mailed with the water district bills, just as the district allows advertisements for day care or other services offered by district customers, she said.
Roberston created the flier on her home computer, she said, paid for the copies and delivered them ready to mail to the water district. The district did not incur any increased postage costs to add the flier to the bill and she did not pay the water district anything, she said.
"There was no extra charge, no money involved, and there was no expense no extra postage," she said.
Roche should have called to ask about the flier before filing the complaint, she added.
Roche said he has not endorsed either candidate and is considering leaving the space blank on next week's ballot.
Calls to the water district were not returned Thursday. Haines did not return a message left on his cell phone.
Robertson said she saw trust, impartiality and honesty as the most important issues facing the fire district.
Lori Aufdenberg said she plans on focusing on finding grant funding to accommodate their increase in the department size.
The board survived a wave of resignations in November when 12 members of the 22-person fire department quit, including the chief Jerry Aufdenberg, over a budgeting disagreement with a maintenance officer.
All of the members who resigned were reinstated following an emergency meeting.
"Everybody has come back, and we've been working quite well as a cohesive unit, I thought, until this happened," Roche said Wednesday.
In the East County Fire Protection District race, Norman Goehman will face Terrence Kelley and Connie Exler in for two seats on the district's board. Kelley and Exler were appointed to the board by Circuit Judge William Syler in the fall after resignations left Pamela Allen as the only remaining member.
The appointments fell to Syler after board chairman Gary Fornkahl resigned shortly after filing a slander lawsuit in which he accused Allen of defaming him in a complaint to the Missouri Ethics Commission over nepotism.
On March 27, Syler granted a motion to dismiss the case.
Staff writer Rudi Keller contributed to this report.
Egypt Mills, MO