Mo. Fire District Is Challenging Pension Law

Published October 1, 2007

The Mehlville, Missouri Fire Protection District Board of Directors has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of legislation recently signed into law by Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R).

Blunt signed Senate Bill 406, which includes a provision creating a five-member board of trustees to administer fire protection district pension plans.

The five-member pension boards will be comprised of a fire district’s three-member board of directors and two plan participants chosen by the board of directors from a pool of three nominees elected by plan members, according to the new law.

Constitutionality Challenged

“The Board of Directors voted to pursue a judicial review of the legislation,” Mathew Hoffman, the district’s legal counsel, told the Call.

The suit, scheduled to be heard on August 27, asks the court:

  • To temporarily restrain the application of the pension-board provision of SB 406 until such time as the issues raised in the lawsuit may be decided.
  • Upon declaring that the relevant law is illegal or unconstitutional, to permanently restrain its enforcement as applied to the Mehlville Fire Protection District.
  • To award Mehlville’s costs and expenses.

The suit, which names Attorney General Jay Nixon as the defendant, was filed in Cole County. State statute and court rules require the attorney general be named as the defendant and allowed to be heard in any action where it is alleged that a statute is unconstitutional.

Specifically, the suit challenges the constitutionality of the pension-board provision, Section 321.800 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, contending, “The state is in error with the passage of Section 321.800 RSMo., which is contrary to existing law.”

Board Has ‘All Powers’

The lawsuit notes fire protection districts are created and guided by Section 321.00 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, which states, “The board, acting as a board, shall exercise all powers of the board, without delegation thereof to any other body or entity or association, and without delegation thereof to less than a quorum of the board.”

Section 321.800 of SB 406 states the pension board of trustees will “administer” a fire protection district’s pension plan.

“The term ‘administer’ is not clear within the meaning of the proposed legislation and extensively contradicts other portions of 321.00 of the Missouri Revised Statutes,’ the district’s suit will contend.

Furthermore, Mehlville’s suit asserts that under state law, residents can elect a five-member board of directors for a fire protection district, “which is inconsistent with the proposed law, which will create a separate five-member board of trustees, consisting of two employee members, to administer the pension plan for every fire protection district within the state.”

Local Control Halted

Asked what prompted the board to challenge the constitutionality of the pension-board provision, Hilmer said, “This is another example of legislators trying to take away local control from residents and we want to ask the court to see if this is constitutional–to delegate authority away from elected people to non-elected employees of the districts if they can make decisions regarding a pension that the taxpayers are 100 percent funding.”

Hilmer noted, “I think this shows what an impact the reform movement has had that we started here in south county after we exposed the $750,000 retirement checks. We exposed the $430,000 disability payments to a former employee who’s working in another district that suddenly the firefighter unions across the state are afraid of their scam being up. …

“So what do they do? They scurry to lawmakers in Jeff City,” Hilmer said. “This reminds south county voters of how their lawmakers voted on this. … [They] stood for a special-interest group and against homeowners being buried by 30 percent reassessments.

“What’s next?” Hilmer asked. “When the teachers’ union decides that a 6 percent raise isn’t enough, will this group pass a law that puts unelected teachers on a board to decide salaries? And these actions prove once again that the vast majority of elected officials in south county are for higher property taxes and no amount of words, public forums, or cups of coffee will change that,” Hilmer said.

Mike Anthony ([email protected]) is executive editor of Call Newspapers in St. Louis, Mo. An earlier version of this article , reprinted by permission, appeared in the August 1 edition of Call Newspapers.