JEFFERSON CITY - The daughter of attorney Elbert Walton Jr. is wading into the bitter battle over the Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District, pushing two bills in the Missouri Legislature that cut at issues her father is fighting over.
Walton's daughter, state Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, has prepared a bill that would make it illegal for a judge to appoint a receiver to make decisions about finances of any political subdivision in the state.
She had not filed the bill as of Thursday, but she sent an e-mail to other legislators looking for a co-sponsor.
Walton Gray also prefiled a bill Thursday that would allow fire protection districts to appoint their own police.
Her father, a former state representative, recently was fired as chief attorney of the Northeast fire district, which serves 15 communities in north St. Louis County. In Walton's 2½ years with the district, he demanded that police arrest residents he and the board deemed disruptive and expressed frustration when that didn't happen.
More recently, he is embroiled in a legal battle involving thousands of dollars he and others have billed the district. Walton has argued that the court lacks jurisdiction over such matters and has no right to appoint a receiver.
Walton is expected to ask a judge today to dissolve a freeze on district funds.
Walton Gray acknowledged that the bill is directly related to the dispute involving her father. She said she believes judges should only be able to appoint receivers for businesses and that the law needs to be clarified.
But the chances of passage appear dim.
House Majority Floor Leader Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, said any bill that could appear to benefit a legislator or a family member "sends the wrong message." Tilley controls the flow of legislation in the House.
State Rep. Don Calloway, a vocal critic of Walton's, laughed when he was told Walton Gray planned to file the bill.
"That's silly," he said. "The bill has no chance of passing."
Calloway, D-Bel-Nor, has been at the center of the fire district controversy lately, filing a lawsuit that led to a freeze of district funds. He also grabbed a fire district checkbook at the district's office in an attempt to determine which bank thousands of dollars in severance payments were to be drawn from, resulting in a scuffle with an office worker.
That action earned him an arrest on suspicion of second-degree robbery, but the prosecuting attorney's office refused to press charges.
The Northeast board fired Walton, fellow attorney Bernard Edwards Jr. and Fire Chief Joseph L. Washington on Dec. 1 and voted 2-1 to allow an arbitrator to decide what the three are to be paid. Walton may walk away with a severance package of $190,000 plus thousands more in legal fees from the district.
Meanwhile, Walton and Edwards argued in court last week for the payment of bills submitted to the district - including more than $84,000 in legal fees the two have billed since Oct. 20, when the court-ordered freeze on district funds took effect. Walton and Edwards have been battling the freeze since it began and have contended that the court lacks jurisdiction to appoint a receiver over a fire district.
Though the suit asked that a receiver be appointed, none was. Rather, St. Louis County Circuit Judge John Ross initially approved a list of acceptable expenses submitted by a district director, then last week ordered that the payroll and several specific bills be paid.
Ross authorized payment for expenses considered "normal and necessary" for the district's ongoing operation. Ross did not include pay for the two attorneys, an accountant, a consultant and security guards on his list of approved expenses. Another hearing on whether to dissolve the freeze and other freeze-related matters is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today.
The bill Walton Gray prefiled Thursday would authorize "the board of directors of certain special purpose districts to appoint and employ as many district police officers as the board deems necessary."
In the spring, as the Northeast board was passing resolutions to ban residents it had deemed disruptive, Walton Gray introduced a similar bill to allow fire and other districts to appoint their own police. The proposal would have given such officers the authority to make arrests and "to expel persons from public buildings and grounds for violating rules and regulations of the board." The bill never got a hearing.