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Jane Cunningham Sworn In To Monarch Board; District Battle Lines Drawn

The former State Senator officially took office this week on the board of the west St. Louis County area fire district.

The Monarch Fire Protection District Board was reconstituted this week following this month's election that saw Jane Cunningham handily defeat Cole McNary in a race pitting former state lawmakers for a director's seat for the Chesterfield-based district. Monarch serves parts of several municipalities in St. Louis County, including Creve Coeur, Wildwood, Ballwin and Maryland Heights.

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Cunningham succeeds Kim Evans, who opted against running for re-election.

The just completed-campaign boiled down to what Cunningham called "a war" between citizens and the firefighter's union for control of the district, but it was clear Wednesday that in some respects, the rhetorical battle was just beginning.

"It's a celebration of government of the people, by the people, for the people," Cunningham said after she was sworn in before an overflow crowd, adding that her election was a mandate "for excellent service at a fair price."

New board president Robin Harris directed Chief Tom Vineyard to post a copy of Monarch's union contract on the district's website, along with information about salaries by position. In addition, Harris directed the district to create a comment form for anyone who comes into contact with Monarch personnel.

Changing Makeup Of The Board Evident Early

Harris also called for a review of district vendors, starting with legal representation and a request for proposals (RFP) in May.

Director Steve Swyres, who questioned why Monarch would consider changes to legal representation at a time when the district is being sued in federal court. Former Batallion Chiefs claim they were wrongfully fired in 2011 after they were named in a lawsuit claiming workplace discrimination that the district lost in state appellate court. They also claim they were targeted for firing in part because they clashed with union leadership. Swyres said he was concerned about potentially losing institutional memory at a time when the district faces significant litigation.

The federal trial is scheduled to begin in September.

He also pointed to decreasing legal costs, while Harris said those costs were "ramping up."

Reflecting the changing makeup of the board, the motion to put out an RFP passed 2-1, with Swyers dissenting. Swyers' proposal to schedule two board meetings a month with open and closed sessions on the same day as a way to hold down costs, failed 2-1.

Cunningham and Harris both said meetings that weren't necessary could be eliminated if necessary and didn't want to be pinned down on a schedule.

Public Comment

"Unless there is an immediate and drastic change in the relationship with the union leadership I suggest this new board move quickly to establish wages, benefits and working conditions that represent the relative position of these first responders compared to police and military members who also protect us," said former Monarch board member Rick Gans, who dropped out of the 2013 contest and backed Cunningham.

"The time has come for them to tell their leadership that they appreciate their jobs and the public they serve rather than acceding to the demands of their leadership because they are afraid," he added.

Two others rose  to either congratulate Cunningham on taking office or speak out against the union's influence, Susan Price took a different tact after admitting she wasn't involved in all the "rigmarole" surrounding the district. 

"I don't know about all the background but I am here to help," said Price. Jane I'm here to help you. I didn't vote for you but I'm willing to help in any way I can."

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