Question of the day: If there is no business to conduct (which, in rural areas is a distinct possibility) then why have a monthly meeting? Is it not a colossal waste of time and effort?
The answer to the first question is because it’s the law. The answer to the second question, in typical lawyer fashion, is maybe yes and mostly no. And the second answer probably changes based on District size and workforce.
Fire Protection Districts in the state of Missouri are mandated to hold at least one meeting per month. If you’re curious, the statutory reference is contained in RSMO 321.200.1. Its right there in the first line and its pretty clear: “…the board shall meet regularly, not less than once each month.” This statute sets the minimum of course, and districts may meet more regularly as they deem necessary in the interests of the District. However, at least one monthly meeting is always required.
As a sidebar, there are other requirements set by this statute as well. Meetings must be held at a time and building designated by the Board, but the building must be “in the District.” I know many Districts send Board members and staff out of the District on retreats, seminars, or training. This will work so long as meetings (we’ll talk another time about what constitutes a “meeting”) are not held outside the District boundary—official business must be conducted in a manner designed to allow your constituents the opportunity to be present and observe. RSMO 321.200.1 also takes a step beyond the requirements of the Sunshine Law for public notice of meetings. For Fire Protection Districts, notice of time and place of the regular meetings must be posted continuously at the firehouse, or fire houses of the District. This additional requirement for notice is not a throwaway, and is viewed as an additional, not redundant, notice requirement for a District.
Regarding the second question—are these meetings a waste of time and money? Perhaps. It can certainly feel that way. Larger Districts almost always have business to handle monthly, if not weekly. For small Districts the reality can be much different. Sometimes the logistics of gathering Board members for a meeting where no business (or no business that couldn’t wait a month) will be decided seems like a monumental effort for no purpose. But if you keep in mind the formal status of a Fire District—it is a standalone, political subdivision, and each meeting of the Board is a statutorily prescribed meeting of the political subdivisions legislative body—in addition to the District’s obligation to its taxpayers to not only provide fire protection, but conduct business properly and in accordance with State law, the viewpoint changes slightly. The conduct of even minimal business of the District—expenditures, minutes, balance sheets—handled in public, is a reassurance to citizens that the system is working. And, it’s the law.