By Allen Edmonds
HARRISONVILLE – A Cass County citizens’ group filed suit Thursday against the board of the Western Cass Fire Protection District, based in Cleveland, alleging mismanagement and violations of the Sunshine Law. The 57-page suit asks the Cass County Circuit Court to appoint a special master to operate the district and to issue a preliminary injunction freezing financial transactions, barring modification of district records, and banning directors from acting subjects discussed in meetings where alleged Sunshine violations occurred.
The Citizens for Transparency and Accountability, whose members are not named in the suit, are represented by attorney James R. Layton of St. Louis. Defendants in the action are listed as Board Chairman John Webb, Board Member Martha Hardman, Board Member Suzanne Hosterman and Board Secretary Christopher Johnson, all of Cleveland.
Board members Kerry VanMeveren and Darvin Schildknecht are not named in the suit, but make it clear in a website connected with the action that they are both involved with the committee.
Each gives detailed statements on their positions on the website (letters at right).
The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Mike Wagner. No initial hearing date has been set.
The group’s attorney, in addition to filing a detailed suit alleging specific examples of financial and operational mismanagement, also sent letters to Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Butler, Attorney General Eric Schmitt and State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
To Butler, Layton wrote that the “current mismanagement – amounting to malfeasance – merits action by your office.”
He alleged some board members and officers have “obstructed, impaired, hindered and perverted government function.” He said, “attempted nepotism and gross mismanagement of the District’s operations, especially when combined with the improper handling of meetings and records, create an opportunity for embezzlement, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer funds.”
To the Attorney General, Layton wrote, “We ask that you investigate and take swift action with regard to the Western Cass Fire Protection District – and that you do so quickly before the loose financial controls allow the District’s finances, and the taxpayers’ funds, to be dissipated.”
To the State Auditor, who audited the district recently, Layton asks that she use her authority to further review the District.
Western Cass currently has no volunteers or firefighters on board, and calls are being answered by the Belton Fire Department and the Dolan-West Dolan Fire District on a mutual aid basis. The Board recently voted to pay both departments for calls it has answered within the district in 2022.
Following are letters posted to the Citizens for Transparency and Accountability website by VanMeveren and Schildknecht.