Gordonville volunteer fire chief voted out by board

Friday, June 8, 2012

Smoldering tensions that had surrounded the Gordonville Volunteer Fire Department for several months may have erupted Wednesday night when the department's board voted to terminate its chief.

Randy Morris, the chief for the past three years, said he was "just floored" by the board's decision.

"I'm at a loss for words as to why I was terminated. They couldn't give me any hard facts on why I was terminated," Morris said.

The department's board is made up of three men.

Board members Jeffery Sneathen and Collin McClanahan could not be reached for comment. Board member Shawn Morris said he had been instructed by McClanahan not to discuss the decision and to refer all questions to the department's attorney, David Summers.

Summers said Thursday afternoon that due to attorney-client privilege he couldn't discuss the situation.

After he was notified of the board's decision, Morris said he called Gordonville assistant chief Steve Corzine and told him he would have to "take the reins." But Corzine resigned instead, Morris said.

Morris, who works as a captain in the Cape Girardeau Fire Department, said he turned in his firefighting gear at Gordonville on Thursday morning.

The tiny department has had a recent history of turmoil. A disagreement among board members Nov. 3, 2010, led to the resignation of five firefighters. In that incident, the board had just reinstated a firefighter whom fire captains had released from duty. The firefighter in question had been in the department more than 15 years but hadn't received any training or responded to calls in more than two years.

That same year, the department began construction of a new fire station at a cost of $400,000. But after completion of the shell, the structure has stood empty because construction hasn't been finished.

The concrete floor of the building fell short of the 6 inches of concrete required to support a firetruck, Morris said at the time. Rather than repour the concrete, the department took out a four-year warranty on it in case the floor cracks under the weight of a water-filled truck.

John Peters resigned from the board in March 2011, after which McClanahan was appointed to the board. Board member William Craig died Jan. 1 this year. After Craig's death only two volunteers expressed interest in the position, Sneathen and Bob Andrews.

The decision of whom to appoint to the position fell to Circuit Court Judge Ben Lewis. Morris threw his support behind Andrews, saying in a letter that the previous board had worked under a "good ole boy" network.

"Now Mr. McClanahan is trying, I believe, to push his friend Mr. Sneathen into the vacated seat on the board," the letter said.

The letter went on to say that Andrews regularly attended board meetings and that Morris had never seen Sneathen at any fire department function.

Lewis appointed Sneathen to the position.

Previously, Morris had sent a letter to the board expressing his concerns over smoking and drinking in the district's fire stations by longtime members of the department. He also said in the letter that he was concerned that the board did not welcome the public to its meetings.

Another letter sent in August and signed by about 30 firefighters requested Craig resign because of firefighters' lack of confidence he would continue to serve the department well.

Andrews said Thursday that he asked the Missouri state auditor's office to audit the department. To get that, he needs signatures from 375 residents, he said.

Morris said he felt like the department was beginning to move forward before Wednesday night's events. The department was able to purchase a used firetruck to replace one that was about 40 years old, he said.

"We've done some pretty great things out there," Morris said. "The department became medical first-responders in 2008, when I was a captain there. We brought the new building in 2010."

Morris said he could see the writing on the wall -- that he would not be able to please "a couple of the board members."

"It's just disappointing," Morris said. "I could get mad, but when it comes down to it, I'm bummed out more than anything else."

jgamm@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

711 Route Z, Gordonville, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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