Counting down to Monarch election with Jane Cunningham, Cole McNary
By: Sarah Wilson
As the Monarch Fire Protection District race heats up, two former state legislators are going head-to- head on their way to a seat on a Board that has gained a reputation for heated contention.
Jane Cunningham and Cole McNary, both Chesterfield residents, are running on platforms of no tax increases and more transparency, yet their contradicting views on Monarch as a union district have become talking points in each of their campaigns.
West Newsmagazine interviewed both candidates about their desire to run for the Monarch seat, their priorities if elected and their suggestions for moving forward and clearing Monarch’s air after its difficult streak of bad publicity throughout the past few years. Responses are in alphabetical order by last name.
Cunningham said three things motivated her to run in the election.
“One is I’ve been involved with Monarch for about a decade, both going to Board meetings and speaking at Board meetings on behalf of the public and taxpayers,” Cunningham said.
She said she is best known, however, for “my leadership in reversing the unnecessary and unprecedented property tax in 2011.”
She also graduated from Monarch’s fire operations course available to community leaders and members.
“So it’s no surprise that I want to continue providing some leadership,” Cunningham said.
Her second reason, she said, is because of “the concerns the public has.”
“Over the years, there has been a struggle for control of the Board for the public and taxpayers and the unions, so clearly that needs to be addressed,” she said. “Thirdly, the property taxes have been in question, and that is something I have worked with over the last few years, and I think we need to address that and keep them as low as possible while we ensure quality and top-notch service.”
Cunningham served four years in the Missouri Senate and eight in the House of Representatives before redistricting forced her out of her seat in the last election. She also was chairwoman of the Education Task Force, served on the Board of the American Legislative Exchange Council and was a delegate to the 1992 Republican National Convention. She recently made an unsuccessful bid to become state chairwoman for the Republican Party.
Given past controversies involving Monarch, her plan to transition the Board into the future includes implementing an “independent person who is not beholden to any special interests.”
“So if you have that, then I think it will naturally address Board issues that are controversial and bring fairness to the Board, the staff and the taxpayers,” Cunningham said.
She said there has been a struggle between public taxpayers and the union and that the bias is “absolutely” toward the union.
“No doubt about it,” she said. “I have seen the Monarch Fire District Board continually burden taxpayers with unnecessary taxes when excellent service can be provided with the funds we have.”
She said if elected, control of the Board “will be properly returned to the public and the taxpayers.”
She also said she plans to stop annual tax increases, restore transparency, work with neighboring fire districts to share resources, improve response times, end the deficiencies cited in an audit last year, improve security and review the district’s existing contracts.
“We are all put there by the voters to oversee a government service because that’s what this is on behalf of – the public,” she said. “I asked the question of school board candidates, ‘What is your purpose?’ Most of them think their purpose is to help the superintendent or make sure there’s enough money for the district – that is not their job. That’s also not the job of the Board on Monarch. It is to represent the public and make sure that they have good government service at a good price. Therefore on the flip side, that person is also being fair with the employees because they need to be well trained and have all the resources they need to provide good services, but they don’t need to overpay. It needs to be reasonable in comparison to other situated government services. It’s all about fairness and stewardship.”
McNary served two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives before winning the GOP nomination for state treasurer last year before losing out to Clint Zweifel.
What drew McNary into the Monarch Board election, he said, is “a certain commitment to public service.”
“One of the current directors approached me and asked me if I could provide service to the district. I was a pretty easy mark,” McNary said.
He said his son broke a femur last year and was able to utilize Monarch’s services.
“Nobody cares much about the service until they need it, but it turned out well,” McNary said. “So I felt as though I could provide leadership on the Board. This is a district that has had lots of problems, and I felt honored that they asked me.”
The district has indeed had its share of controversy; McNary cited the gender discrimination suit involving Monarch as an example. But McNary said he is determined to put the district back into a different light.
“The focus needs to be on getting past that and needs to be working together, keeping the culture and getting the service the people in the community deserve,” McNary said. “I have to say that I think under (Steve) Swyers, the district has really taken giant steps toward getting back on its feet.”
If elected, McNary said he plans to continue to fight tax increases, balance the budget, eliminate government waste and increase overall efficiency, increase transparency and work with other fire boards to see what policies have been effective for them.
He said community outreach is something the past Board discouraged.
“But I like it, and I think it’s something that Swyers has promoted,” he said.
“You have to get out there and have some dialogue with people to find out what are the services they want you to provide. What you want to do is provide an avenue where there’s a dialogue with the taxpayers of Monarch.
“You need to have the firefighters be as well trained as possible, and you’re basically constricted by economics and what you can pay them. And what they do is for the benefit of the taxpayers in the district. They go together.”
He said the problems the past Board has had is that it did not want to work with the firefighters, “so they were not as productive as they could be.”
“Really, they just need to work together so that they can provide the best service to the people in the area,” McNary said. “Past boards have basically not listened to them and, as a result, they weren’t able to meet the needs of a community very well and we ended up spending much, much, much more money than we needed to.”
He said raising taxes is not the answer.
“What I think that’s more important is how you provide the same level of service without having almost a million dollars in tax revenues,” McNary said. “I really just want to run on my own qualifications and with the fact that I’ve been able to work effectively with both members of the majority and minority. This is a non-partisan position, and I don’t want to implement partisan politics, but I have to be able to work with both sides cooperatively to be effective.”