Klund says he's happy with his campaign; Hilmer calls it 'one hell of a devious attack.'
April 13, 2011 - Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer, of Oakville, attributes his narrow victory over challenger Michael Klund, of Lemay, in last week's election to an informed public.
Klund, whose campaign was funded almost solely by the International Association of Fire Fighters and its Mehlville shop, received 7,205 votes — 47.5 percent — while Hilmer garnered 7,418 votes — 48.9 percent — in the April 5 election, according to unofficial results.
A third candidate, R.L. Praprotnik, of Concord, received 527 votes — 3.4 percent. Praprotnik announced in February that he was withdrawing from the race and supporting Hilmer though his name remained on the ballot.
The IAFF and Mehlville Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters contributed more than $90,000 to committees supporting Klund, according to campaign-finance reports due eight days before the election.
The two committees — Mike for Mehlville Fire and Friends of the Mehlville Fire District — combined have raised $96,905. Of that amount, the IAFF gave $14,700 and Local 1889 contributed $76,000. The committees collectively have spent $80,606.25.
Re-Elect Aaron Hilmer reported raising $10,370.38 and spending $12,733.99 during the reporting period of Feb. 19 through March 24. The committee reported having $1,625.39 on hand and $4,029 in outstanding debt.
Hilmer was seeking his second six-year term on the Board of Directors. He was elected to the fire board in April 2005 after running on a reform platform with Bonnie Stegman, who currently serves as board treasurer.
Of his re-election, Hilmer told the Call, "... I think you can look at it two ways. No. 1, it's frightening that you can have an outside organization come into south county, spend $4,000 a day for literally almost four weeks in a row on negative mail and misinformation about me and they almost got a candidate elected who would never even talk to the public, be it on the radio, be it in a public forum. That he almost got elected is pretty frightening.
"But on the flip side, I think it really speaks volumes to how informed the public was ... I think it's a testament to what we've accomplished in six years. Never before I believe in the history of south county has some type of a singular organization come down and thrown that kind of money against a single person, much less a board race, from as far away as Washington, D.C. — all done to subvert campaign-finance laws so no one would know until all the dust settled who was behind this money. But now we know and I think that's what will be known as the story after the story as the public sees who was behind all this.''
Klund did not attend a candidate forum scheduled for March 24, citing a family emergency, and declined a request to appear April 4 on Charlie Brennan's radio show on KMOX. Hilmer did appear and fielded questions from Brennan and listeners.
Of Klund's campaign, Hilmer said, "It was one hell of a devious attack full of literally hate and misinformation, but the old lion survived it and he can still protect the pride and the roar has returned for six more years ... It's such a testament to the readers of this publication and the informed people of south county that they saw through that.
"Show me one other person who could survive that kind of onslaught and I think it is a testament to the six years of accomplishments that we did do that people saw through that. It is flattering when they try to run a fiscally conservative message the same way I did six years ago — except I proved I could do it. Their claims, as we've proved, could never have happened — never have happened.''
But Klund told the Call he was pleased with his campaign, saying it was based on "facts.''
"I'm really happy with my campaign. I believe I ran facts on everything I stated in my literature and stuff and it can all be verified ...,'' he said. "Less than five weeks before the election I had less than 5 percent name recognition. So I got a lot of people I think that will now pay attention to what's going on in their fire district."
Hilmer said he ran for re-election on his record of six years of accomplishments as fire board chairman and chose not to respond to Klund's claims and "misinformation.''
"Some people said near the end of the campaign: Aaron, how are you going to respond to this? And I said: These are such crazy claims, if people want to believe them, they can have it, and it's clear that enough people didn't believe it,'' he said.
Particularly disturbing about Klund's campaign was the use of scare tactics, Hilmer said.
"I think that it not so much bothers me all the crazy claims they made about me. You could say that I hate veterans. You could say that I don't like senior citizens and kids and teachers and I think the real question you should ask is: Who do I like, according to these people. Obviously, not many people. But the problem is when they started scaring people about the fire district, trying to tell residents we're going to take away an ambulance. They make it sound like our equipment's bad; we're raising taxes.''
Addressing the Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen last month, Klund said that moving the fire district's No. 3 firehouse roughly 1,000 feet west would jeopardize the safety of city residents. That claim later was disputed by MFPD Chief Tim White, who told the Call, "... It's not going to put the citizens of Sunset Hills or citizens in the immediate area at any risk whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the distance to travel in a Code 3 from where we're going to move to the actual location would probably be roughly 10 seconds. Now keep in mind, everybody on the other side of that, it's 10 seconds quicker.''
Of Klund's claim, Hilmer said, "... That is certainly something we are going to be addressing. We're going to have Chief White address it from a district angle. Because I think there were so many scare tactics thrown out there that Chief White is going to get out there and really address these things that hit at the heart of what we do and that's provide service to residents. I don't have a problem if someone says I'm not qualified for this position or if they don't like my views on certain things. But to scare residents is certainly a tactic that we won't stand for and we're going to be out there as a fire district working on that.''
Noting how close the election results were, Klund said, "I hope that the new board looks at the issues I brought up like the ambulance billing, that they re-address that and make sure people don't get billed.
"I hope that with the type of election and how many voters came out and expressed their opinions that they will address some of the issues that I brought up."
Klund's campaign contended ambulance billing, which had been approved in 2002, was "double taxation.'' To eliminate ambulance billing, Hilmer said the Board of Directors would have to ask district voters to approve a tax-rate increase of roughly 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
"One thing that really bothered me was that whole double-taxation claim. But since their candidate would never appear to take questions from residents and voters, they couldn't explain how ludicrous it was. (Local) 1889's claim was they wanted to stop double taxation. What that means is we wouldn't bill people for ambulance service. I've been there for six years, I've never heard one complaint from a person that we billed for ambulance service,'' he said.
"If they wanted to stop that as they purported, that's $2 million a year that comes out of our budget. That means you'd have to raise our tax rate by approximately 10 cents, which would be impossible. You'd have to ask voters for a tax increase to eliminate ambulance service because we are at our legal max (tax-rate ceiling).''
One of the fliers mailed in support of Klund included comments from Russell Bono, a retired Mehlville fire captain and Marine Corps veteran criticizing the MFPD for denying Local 1889's request to display fire equipment at a benefit sponsored by the union for his grandson Todd Nicely, a Marine corporal who lost his limbs in the war in Afghanistan.
"It is disturbing to see a political organization that holds a benefit barbecue for a paraplegic wounded warrior and asks us to send a fire apparatus knowing we have a firm policy we do not send our apparatus to political events,'' Hilmer said. "This group was devious enough to set this event up in September, knowing we would not send a pumper and then make a political issue out of it. You don't believe me? They spent $90,000 to tell people I don't like veterans.
"Now if Cpl. Todd Nicely's family would hold an event, we would have no problem sending a pumper — not something sponsored by a political organization. We have had requests in the past from other elected officials to use our firehouse to perhaps give a speech, give a presentation and we've declined all of them.''
Hilmer also said the decision not to send a vehicle to Local 1889's event was an administrative one that the board did not learn of until after the fact.
"This was nothing the board ever knew about beforehand nor did we ever vote on it. This was a total administrative decision and you can see why the wisdom of that is. It's because we don't want to show that we're taking favorites from certain political parties or organizations,'' he said. "... I have nothing against unions, but public-sector unions cannot sit on both sides of the table.
"There needs to be checks and balances. When the public-sector union sits on both sides of the table, the balance part's gone. All that's going on is residents writing checks and they've proved what they really are. This organization — do not be fooled — is not out there with a boot on a corner collecting quarters for charity. They are a cold, calculating political organization that will stop at nothing to get power.''
Klund plans to remain active in MFPD affairs but said, "I kind of want to get away from it for a couple of weeks. It was draining. It's a lot of work, but I enjoyed it. The people I met were amazing. I hated the ugly side of politics and that threw me for a loop, I was really surprised. But I am very much staying active."
Asked what's next for the fire district, Hilmer said, "Quite frankly, in the first six years I felt we moved mountains and now the board is going to take a much more hands-off approach. We've accomplished tremendous structural changes and the district's in the capable hands of Chief Tim White and Assistant Chief Brian Hendricks.
"And the board looks forward to any proposals they may have to further enhance the delivery of services by the district.''
Staff Reporter Evan Young contributed to this article.