A confusing state statute has called into question the service of several board members at the Meramec Ambulance District, which covers part of Franklin County.
The statute deals with board members of one district working as employees for other fire and ambulance districts.
The ambulance district’s attorney, Mike Kaemmerer, said he does not think the board members’ service on the Meramec Ambulance District violates the statute.
At least two board members at the Meramec Ambulance District are paid employees of other districts, according to Chief Christine Neal. But their service on the Meramec Ambulance District board is voluntary and unpaid.
Those board members are Ronald Suerig, who is a paid employee of the High Ridge Fire Protection District, and Patrick Holland, who is a paid employee of the West County EMS and Fire Protection District, Neal said.
In addition, two other board members are also involved with other fire protection districts, but whether they are compensated is unclear, Neal said.
She explained that board member Floyd Blake is involved in a reserve or part-time status with the Pacific Fire Protection District, but it is unclear if he is paid.
Moreover, Neal said it is unclear if board member Sidney Casey is paid by the Boles Fire Protection District.
Neal said the Meramec Ambulance District’s legal counsel addressed the issue in a recent closed session of the board.
Meanwhile, the board members continue to serve.
Holland has served on the Meramec Ambulance District Board for more than 10 years while the other three came on more recently.
Neal agreed that the statute dealing with board members working for other districts is confusing.
She said it may not be a bad idea to get clarification from the Legislature. She noted that words can be interpreted differently from what was originally intended.
Neal said she thinks there is value in having board members who have worked in the field.
The board members themselves would better answer whether they think issues could arise from serving on the board while being employed by another district, she said.
The confusion in the statute lies in the word “voluntary.”
The statute says, “No employee of any fire protection district or ambulance district shall serve as a member of any fire district or ambulance district board while such person is employed by any fire district or ambulance district, except that an employee of a fire protection district or an ambulance district may serve as a member of a voluntary fire protection district board or a voluntary ambulance district board.”
Neal explained that the issue deals with whether the word “voluntary” applies to the word “district,” meaning that its workers are unpaid, or if it applies to “board,” which means the board members are unpaid.
Kaemmerer said the ambulance district believes the word “voluntary” applies to the fact that the board members are unpaid volunteers. That means the Meramec Ambulance District board members are in compliance with the statute, Kaemmerer added.
But if the word “voluntary” applies to responders for the district, there could be an issue since Meramec pays its employees.
Attorney General Opinion
Gov. Jay Nixon issued an opinion on the issue in 1996 when he was the attorney general.
Nixon concluded that the statute prohibits an employee of another fire or ambulance district from serving on the board of a fire or ambulance district that has full-time paid employees.
The purpose of the statute is to “prevent conflicts of interest” and “secure loyalty,” the opinion states.
Kaemmerer asked how Nixon would have known the Legislature’s intent with the statute since there is no verbatim account kept of General Assembly proceedings.
Board members for Meramec Ambulance District serve three-year terms.
The district answers on average 3,300 calls a year and has 27 full-time and 20 to 25 part-time employees.
It covers an area of 244 square miles, most of which is in Franklin County with small portions in St. Louis County and Jefferson County.