Double Agent Dupes Public and Jackassery Reigns at Northeast Fire Protection District

First of all, kudos to Post-Dispatch reporter Elizabethe Holland. Her repeated, in-depth coverage of the astonishingly corrupt Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District is watchdog journalism at its best and worthy of acknowledgment.

So it was that yesterday (a Sunday, no less) Holland once again found herself at the fire district's office for an "emergency meeting" of the board.

Those following the district's scandal thought yesterday's meeting would lead to the firing of attorney Elbert Walton Jr. and fire chief Joe Washington (a fat man in sweatpants) who've used the board to pad their pockets with hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable expenses and payments.

Instead, taxpayers in attendance yesterday witnessed another blatant heist (this one in the broad daylight of a sunny afternoon) as the board approved $780,000 in severance to make Washington and Walton go away.

It wasn't supposed to go down like this.

Last week a St. Louis County judge appointed a new board member -- Bridget Quinlisk-Dailey -- to the fire district who was supposed to shift the balance of power on the three-person board away from Walton and Washington.

Prior to Quinlisk-Dailey's appointment, fellow board member Rhea Willis had stood in opposition to her counterpart Robert Edwards -- a board member aligned with Walton and Washington. But could it be that Willis was really a double agent, placed on the board for just such a scenario as what occurred yesterday?

Consider this: Walton and Washington placed Willis on the board on July 7 -- four days after the fire district was sued by the attorney general and state auditor for violating state Sunshine Law and refusing a subpoena to hand over financial documents. In short, by July 7 Walton and Washington new the end was near.

So what do they do? They appoint a confidant who looks like she's going to clean up the board by refusing to march in step with the powers-that-be. Then yesterday -- when Walton and Washington agree to go away for a price -- Willis rewards them lucratively. She (along with Edwards) agrees to pay Walton another $190,000 and Washington $450,000 in severance to step down. The same deal also gives Edwards $90,000 to vacate his board seat. That's $730,000 right there in severance. Additional expenses, raise the total payout to the three men to $780,000.

Willis' change of heart, completely flummoxed most observers.

"I'm stunned. I don't even know what to say," Quinlisk-Dailey told the Post-Dispatch's Holland.

"Rhea Willis just betrayed the whole community's trust," posited state representative Don Calloway (D-Bel Nor) who was arrested during the meeting and charged with second-degree robbery when he tried to confiscate a checkbook after a fire district official cut checks to Walton and Washington.

Unfortunately for Calloway, a photo of him in a physical confrontation at last night's meeting is on the front page of today's Post-Dispatch. It was Calloway who last month filed a lawsuit to freeze the funds for the fire district in attempt to stop the way Walton and Washington seemingly embezzle from the district carte blanche.

At Daily RFT we've always considered Calloway to be rather level-headed and extremely smart and capable. But you know what they say: Get in a pissing match with skunks, and everyone goes away smelling awful.

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