FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NOVEMBER 5, 2020
Petition to the Circuit Court
In June of 2020, Director Brian Layman resigned from the Board of Directors due to his moving out of the District. Under Missouri State Statute RsMO 321.200, the remaining board members are charged with filling the vacant seat by appointment. The appointed person would then serve on the board until the next biennial election. That election would take place in April of 2022.
In the time since his resignation was accepted, the remaining two board members, President Denise Dill and Director Robert Hemen have been deadlocked on several issues; most notable, whom to appoint to the vacant seat and start time of the board meetings. The item of the vacant seat has been placed on the meeting agenda every month since Director Layman resigned. As it was evident the Board was deadlocked on the appointment, President Dill has motioned or recommended each month that the matter be taken before the circuit court for a judge to make the appointment.
Director Hemen has refused to vote for the District to move forward with the circuit court, stating he believed it would be a waste of District money. Legal Counsel Tom Lorraine offered to wave all legal fees for the action and the District would only pay court costs, to which Director Hemen also refused.
Director Hemen has placed on the agenda that the meetings be moved to 6:30 pm, first, so that certain members of the public could attend the meetings and later, citing employment and family obligations as being reason to request the change.
The District has held several Board Meetings at the regular start time of 5:30 pm that were called “no quorum”, after President Dill waited 15 minutes each meeting beyond the posted start time. Meetings were initially rescheduled each time Director Hemen failed to attend at the set meeting time of 5:30 pm on the third Monday of the month, including the August meeting in which action was required to set the tax rate for the District as required by statute. President Dill continued to not second motions for a meeting time change as placed on the agenda each month by Director Hemen.
At the September 2020 meeting, Director Hemen read a letter to the community, and for public record, citing his reasons for his meeting time change request and that President Dill refused to accommodate him. In that letter, Director Hemen stated:
“After tonight I will no longer be attending any public meeting of the Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District that start before 1900 (7:00 pm)”
During this time, Fire Chief Joseph LaPlant met with the Camden County Prosecuting Attorney and then, along with Legal Counsel Tom Lorraine, met with the Assistant Missouri Attorney General regarding the issues with the Board. Both parties advised Chief LaPlant that a no quorum meeting met the requirement of a monthly meeting as prescribed by state statutes and therefore did not have to be rescheduled. Director Hemen did not attend the October 19th meeting of the Board of Directors and made no attempt to notify the Fire Chief or President Dill that he would not be attending – the meeting was called as “no quorum”.
Chief LaPlant notified Director Hemen of the Prosecuting Attorney and the Assistant Attorney General’s opinions in a letter via email on October 23rd. In addition, that letter advised Director Hemen that Chief LaPlant could no longer accept electronic correspondence from Director Hemen from his personal email account as all District business (by District policy approved by the Board of Directors) is to be transmitted through the District email server, which Director Hemen refuses to use. Chief LaPlant was advised by the Assistant Attorney General to follow the policy with regard to electronic communications.
At the October 2020 Board Meeting, the posted agenda included budget items including turnout gear, fire hose, Automatic External Defibrillators and staff vehicles. The agenda also included three items requested to be posted by Director Hemen, despite his not attending the Board Meeting which started at 5:30 pm.
As the 2020 budget year is coming to a close, Fire Chief LaPlant planned to submit budget recommendations and obtain approval to purchase lifesaving equipment that is aging or out of service to maintain the level of readiness and service the residents have come to expect. These items cannot be purchased without the approval of at least two board members due to the expected amounts for the purchases being over 10,000 dollars.
Under state statute RsMO 321.200 – “Any vacancy on the board shall be filled by the remaining elected members of the board, except when less than two elected members remain on the board any vacancy shall be filled by the circuit court of the county in which all or a majority of the district lies.”
Given that Director Hemen has stated he will no longer attend public board meetings of the District, the Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District filed today, November 5, 2020, a petition in the Circuit Court of Camden County for the court to rule on the following:
Is Director Hemen’s statement, entered into Public Record, a resignation and if so, there is no duly constituted board to approve and accept Director Hemen’s resignation or refusal to attend to the District needs the Fire Chief Joseph LaPlant has submitted his request for relief by the Circuit Court under Chapter 321.200.2.
Additionally, the petition cites Chapter 321.190 in which if Director Hemen’s actions are deemed to constitute malfeasance, as outlined to in the Chief’s letter to Legal Counsel, then the circuit court has the power to remove him from his seat.
RsMO 321.190 states – “The circuit court having jurisdiction over the district shall have power to remove directors or any of them for good cause shown upon a petition, notice and hearing.”
This means that the Fire Chief, in accordance with Missouri State Statutes, has notified the court that no quorum exists or that the quorum of the Board has been threatened in a manner that is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of the general public. The petition asks for the matter to be advanced on the court docket in a matter of immediate public interest and concern in accordance with RsMO 321.450.
Normally, the Fire Chief would require a majority vote of the Board to proceed to court. However, as this is an unprecedented situation in which the Board is deadlocked on filling the vacant seat and even a time to meet, and a sitting board member has publicly stated he will no longer attend public board meetings that take place at the official monthly start time, Chief LaPlant felt that it is in the best interest of the people the District serves to bring this matter before the court and have these issues resolved in the interest of public safety.
Media may direct their questions to
Fire Chief Joseph LaPlant
Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District