Wright City Fire Board Election Wrongly Held

By: Tim Schmidt
Posted 9/12/09

The Wright City Fire Board president has resigned after learning that the election he won in 2009 should have been conducted in 2010. Last week, Board President Keith Thompson willingly tendered his …

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Wright City Fire Board Election Wrongly Held


The Wright City Fire Board president has resigned after learning that the election he won in 2009 should have been conducted in 2010. Last week, Board President Keith Thompson willingly tendered his resignation after fire district officials learned of the error. Former board member Robert Mallery will be reinstated when the board meets this Thursday at 4 p.m. according to a press release issued by the district. Mallery was first elected to the board in April 2006. This past April, Thompson received 676 votes to Mallery's 211 votes. Thompson was sworn in shortly thereafter. The error was realized two weeks ago, according to Assistant Fire Chief Ron MacKnight, when officials began reviewing past election records in connection with the upcoming April 6, 2010, election. Candidates can begin filing for seats on the board next Tuesday. Frank J. Vatterott, who was retained to advise the district in the matter, called the error "a simple mistake" in a Dec. 3 letter to the fire board. He said the district didn't violate any statutes by holding the election at the wrong time. He said he confirmed this with Waylene Hiles, election counsel with the Missouri Secretary of State's office. Board member Larry Zuhone and MacKnight also acknowledged the mix-up was an honest mistake. "I think it was an oversight from a number of parties," MacKnight said. "It should have been caught on several layers." Zuhone added: "We were looking at an old statute." According to Vatterott, in April 2005 Wright City Fire District voters approved a proposition to increase the number of board members from three to five. Per state statute, when the two new seats were created beginning in 2006, the person receiving the most votes (Mark L. Smith) won a six-year term, while the second-highest vote-getter (Mallery) was to serve a four-year term. Apparently, the error made last year at this time occurred when fire district employees looked at an older statute that set Mallery's term at three years and failed to notice a revision to the law that added another year to the term, Vatterott noted. Since Thompson was elected at the wrong time, Vatterott concluded the best remedy would be that Mallery be reseated. Once Mallery's term ends, all five board members will serve six-year terms. The position will then be up for election next April. When reached Wednesday, Thompson said he agreed that he needed to step down and emphasized the district needs better leadership on the board. He declined to say if he intends on running again for the seat when the filing period begins next week. "The whole situation to me is ridiculous," Thompson said. "The situation was avoidable. The individuals responsible for this didn't do their homework. This shouldn't have happened. This should be a wake-up call for the citizens of this district to stand up and be active." One issue that remains unresolved is the effect of any votes taken by the board during Thompson's tenure on the board. That includes a 3-2 vote Aug. 10 to place former Fire Chief Brian Nickerson on paid administration leave and end his employment Aug. 24. A severance package totaling $37,782.42 was reached Oct. 8 with Nickerson, who served as fire chief since 2004. According to the press release issued by the district, legal counsel was "retained and believes no actions made by the board since April of 2009 that will be affected." However, Vatterott's letter appears to contradict that statement. He recommends that once Mallery is sworn in, the board should review all resolutions and ordinances that were passed between April and November by a 3-2 vote. If Mallery believes he would have voted opposite of Thompson, Vatterott said, the vote can be switched if it's deemed the resolution or ordinance can be changed. Vatterott also suggested a new vote be taken to eliminate any confusion. The fire district is currently in the process of hiring a new fire chief, a position currently manned in the interim by MacKnight. The application deadline was Nov. 30, but MacKnight said the employment search would be put on hold for the time being once the election error is resolved.