Klund, Hilmer now are vying for seat on fire district board.
Executive Editor - Call Newspapers
February 23, 2011 - A candidate for the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors announced Saturday he has withdrawn from the race and will support incumbent Aaron Hilmer, who is seeking election April 5 to a second six-year term.
R.L. Praprotnik told the Call that the only reason he filed for the board seat is because he feared Hilmer was not going to seek re-election.
Praprotnik filed the afternoon of Jan. 18, the last day of filing. Hilmer filed for re-election later that afternoon, just minutes before the 5 p.m. deadline.
Praprotnik's name will remain on the ballot, however, as absentee voting for the April election was to begin Tuesday.
With Praprotnik's withdrawal, the race for the fire board seat will pit Hilmer against Michael Klund.
A fourth candidate, former Mehlville firefighter Keith Floyd of Oakville, no longer is on the April 5 ballot. Floyd obtained a court order earlier this month that removed his name from the ballot.
"... Due to the fact that I didn't know that Aaron was running and I wanted to make sure that the board doesn't change back to the union ownership, that's what I was concerned about and that's why I started to run,'' Praprotnik told the Call. "But I didn't know that Aaron was running and consequently I think I would like to drop out and support Aaron because I think they (current board members) have done a tremendous job on this board and they can continue in their endeavors.''
Hilmer, who serves as board chairman, first was elected to the board in April 2005 with Bonnie Stegman after campaigning on a reform platform, vowing to eliminate fiscal waste while improving services. Ed Ryan, who shares the same reform philosophy as Hilmer and Stegman, was elected to the board in 2007.
Klund, Praprotnik and Hilmer spoke to members of the Tesson Ferry Republican Club on Feb. 10. At that meeting, the candidates addressed club members in ballot order and then responded to questions, including whether they believe the fire district is better off today than six years ago.
Praprotnik told GOP members, "I personally think we are ... I think we owe a great deal of credit to Aaron and to Bonnie for their work on this board and I think it's a great thing.''
Klund said, "I for one, do not. I believe it started out very well and now I believe it's in a shamble.''
Hilmer said, "Yeah, we've got the best services in St. Louis County, we've got the newest equipment and we have the lowest tax rate. What's there not to like about it?''
In response to a question about whether they have or will accept campaign contributions from the firefighters' union, Klund said he would while both Praprotnik and Hilmer said they would not.
Praprotnik told the Call he was greatly concerned about Klund's comments at the Tesson Ferry Republican Club meeting.
Of Klund's comment that the district is "in a shamble,'' he said, "I just totally disagree with that. This district is not in shambles. It is far better now than it was years ago when it was controlled by the union because this present board has done a tremendous job basically in reducing taxes and getting things back in control of the taxpayer ... I think that Aaron and Bonnie and Ed are a good team and Aaron needs to be re-elected in order to make sure that this district is in the hands of the taxpayer and not the union ...''
Praprotnik also believes it is a conflict of interest for a fire board candidate or member to accept campaign contributions from the firefighters' union.
"... You can't serve two masters,'' he said. "You're either a representative of the taxpayers or you are a representative of the union and if a union representative is on that board, they're going to represent the union and not the taxpayer. And that in my opinion is a conflict of interest.''
A 1968 graduate of Washington University, Praprotnik is president of R.L. Praprotnik & Associates, an architectural firm he has operated for 33 years. In the 1990s, he said he performed a variety of work for the fire district.
"... We were fortunate enough to do work for the district,'' Praprotnik said, noting that work included the renovation of the No. 3 firehouse.
"What I did on 3 House was go out and hire a contractor to deliver some plastic laminate cabinets and the district thought that that was not a union shop. Therefore, the cabinets were not acceptable and (district officials) fired me,'' he said, adding he was "upset'' over being fired because as an independent architect, he was looking out for the best interests of district taxpayers.
Hilmer told the Call he was "humbled'' to receive Praprotnik's endorsement.
"I'm humbled that Bob would want to run to continue what I started six years ago,'' he said. "What's amazing is how the things I have done over the past six years would inspire others to rise up and want to continue them ...
"Bob echoes what I hear over and over from many residents — that they are so pleased with the low tax rate and improvements we've made and don't want to see the district to go back to what it was.''
Praprotnik reiterated that he did not know Hilmer was going to file for re-election.
"If I had known, I probably would never have put my name in,'' he said, noting he agrees with the direction the district is moving. "I couldn't see that going backwards in this district. We need to go forward ... ''
Although Praprotnik's name will remain on the ballot, he will be supporting Hilmer "with all my heart because that is a good board and I hope it continues for a lifetime.''