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Board reinstates Dooley as MW fire chief

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By Mallory Bilger

MOUNT WASHINGTON — After hours of lengthy testimony and surprising accusations, the administrative hearing of suspended fire chief Michael Dooley ended Thursday with his reinstatement to full duties.

Mount Washington Fire District board chair Melvin Davis broke a tie vote to restore the chief to his position, although it was unclear as to when Dooley would resume his job.

“I have given this a lot of thought,” Davis said in an interview after the hearing. “I think he can overcome the problems he had in the past. Maybe (the board) hasn’t given good direction. I just feel like he’s worth salvaging.”

Dooley was placed on administrative leave after being criminally charged with second-degree official misconduct.

He was later indicted in Bullitt Circuit Court on the misdemeanor charge and is awaiting his criminal trial in early 2009.

The board filed similar administrative charges against Dooley for poorly supervising and mismanaging funds in the department’s fireman’s fund and WHAS-11 Crusade for Children accounts.

Dooley’s attorney, Ken McCardwell, requested Thursday evening that the board vote upon reinstating his client after resting its case Thursday evening.

Neither Dooley nor McCardwell would comment in depth on the case, citing the pending criminal suit against Dooley.

However, McCardwell said he was glad that his client received his job back.

Trustees Darrell Vires, Gary Lawson and John Jarrett voted against reinstating Dooley while Steve Kennedy, Terry Lewis and Gary Meredith voted for reinstating him.

Davis broke the tie.

“Based on evidence that we’ve heard... my vote would be to reinstate him,” Davis said.

Testimony by Mount Washington Det. Buddy Stump — who conducted the case’s criminal investigation — revealed that Dooley’s charges stemmed from his failure to oversee spending from the two accounts.

Stump testified that the investigation revealed that now dismissed fire Capt. Anthony Judd wrote numerous checks from the crusade and fireman’s fund accounts for cash. Stump said that much of the money in question could not be traced.

Dooley was not charged with the theft of any funds.

Stump testified that many of the checks appeared to have been forged with Judd signing both his and Dooley’s names to them — often misspelling Dooley’s first name.

Judd was indicted in Bullitt Circuit Court on charges of theft by unlawful taking over $300 and second-degree forgery.

Stump testified that Dooley claimed he was not aware of the majority of Judd’s alleged transactions.

Stump also testified that Dooley delegated the duties of maintaining both the crusade and the fireman’s fund accounts to Judd and did not regularly look at bank statements pertaining to them.

According to Stump’s investigation report, $4,371.19 in checks written on a U.S. Bank fireman’s crusade account by Judd appeared to not be for valid expenses.

The report also revealed that $4,970 of checks written allegedly by Judd from the fireman’s fund account with both Dooley and Judd’s signatures could not be explained by Dooley. The majority of those checks were written to Pearl’s Food Mart.

According to Stump’s investigation report, Judd withdrew $11,900 cash from the crusade account in June 2008 to purchase a counter check made payable to another Mount Washington Fire Protection District account. According to the report, the $11,900 was for repayment of funds that were used to purchase a motorcycle that was raffled off as a Crusade for Children fundraiser.

Certified Public Accountant William Hollister, who is currently conducting an audit for the fire protection district, testified that he had found some questionable activity in both the crusade and fireman’s fund accounts.

He said the $11,900 withdrawal from the crusade account was especially troubling.

“Any funds collected for the crusade, I assume, should’ve been given to the crusade,” Hollister said.

Davis said he was deeply saddened by the situation and that as long as he was chair of the board, the trustees would never again approve any large purchases to help raise crusade funds.

“The fire department will never get involved in anything at that level again,” he said of the motorcycle raffle.   

He added that the board would be reevaluating its accounting practices and procedures for handling cash accounts.

Davis said although he knew some trustees disagreed with him, he felt he did what was best for the fire district as a whole.

“I feel like (Dooley) did some things wrong but I don’t think it’s all his fault that the district lost money,” Davis said.

He added that he hoped the community could look past the negative events and put its support and trust back into the district.

Lawson said he felt like many of the allegations against Dooley must have been true.

“I saw the facts differently. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have voted the way I did,” Lawson said.

Jarrett said he didn’t feel that board members had all the information.

“There’s still a criminal case to be solved and we don’t know all the facts,” Jarrett said.