Jessica Stearns
The essence of a well-functioning democracy includes transparency and a right to information. When fire protection boards, such as the O’Fallon Fire Protection District, make crucial decisions in closed-door meetings, they are violating a critical tenet of democracy.

file0001605429169Former Fire Chief Mike Ballmann, who claims that the firefighters union pressured the board to fire him, believes that the union has overstepped its role in the affairs of the fire district. When asked about union involvement in the management of the fire district, Ballmann said that the Fire Protection District Board of Directors was “packed with union people so the shop gets what it wants without any grief.” With the union’s heavy involvement in deciding who will run for the board positions, has the government union overstepped its role?

Since the district is funded by taxpayers, its business should be conducted with the interest of the taxpayer in mind. However, when board meetings are closed, interested taxpayers do not get to see how government unions involve themselves in district affairs. Furthermore, according to Ballmann, there are instances when the union shop steward is invited into the closed board meeting, which not even fire chiefs are allowed to attend. The problem isn’t the existence of a union, but rather their conspicuous control over the fire protection district.

The obvious and sensible solution is for fire districts like O’Fallon to follow in the footsteps of the Monarch Fire Protection District and initiate an open collective bargaining process. This would make sure that any changes made to district operations, union contracts, and decisions to hire or fire employees are free from ambiguity. However, despite efforts to gain the O’Fallon Fire Protection District Board’s insight on this issue, the inner workings of the district seem as ambiguous as ever.

Taxpayers are aware of the great importance firefighters play in protecting their community; their concern, rather, lies in the fact that their fire district is lacking representative leadership and sufficient oversight. Transparency is essential to guarantee that the taxpayer interests are being met. Once open collective bargaining becomes the norm for all government unions, we can ensure that both the worker and the taxpayer are being represented and considered in the political process.

About the Author

Jessica Stearns

Jessica Stearns, a native of Southeast Missouri, is a senior at Saint