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Fire board claims comments do not deal with hearing topic

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By Mallory Bilger

MOUNT WASHINGTON – Attorney Ken McCardwell put the Mount Washington Fire Board on the hot seat Thursday evening during the ongoing hearing of accused fire chief Michael Dooley.

McCardwell spent very little time directly addressing accusations that his client, Dooley, poorly supervised and mismanaged funds connected with the department’s fire board Crusade committee account and the now defunct firemen’s fund account.

Instead, McCardwell spent the evening trying to prove that Dooley couldn’t possibly receive a fair hearing from the existing board. He claimed that the board chair and several of the current board members have themselves performed ethical and possibly legal infractions that directly affect the legitimacy of the charges against his client.

But board attorney Jason McGregor contended that McCardwell was sorely off base and was trying to deflect attention away from the issue at hand — Dooley’s future with the fire department.

“I think it’s a shame they want to try to turn this around,” McGregor said. “(McCardwell’s accusations) are not even the point, they’re not even relevant.”

McCardwell began the evening by asking board chair Melvin Davis and board members Gary Lawson, Darrell Vires and John Jarrett to recuse themselves from the hearing and allow remaining board members Steve Kennedy, Gary Meredith and Terry Lewis — two of which currently serve on the fire department — to decide Dooley’s fate.

All four members asked to recuse themselves refused to do so and also refused to testify as witnesses.

At one point in the hearing, a motion was made to immediately reinstate Dooley to his full capacity as chief. That motion ultimately failed with board members Kennedy, Lewis and Meredith voting for and members Vires, Lawson and Jarrett voting against the motion.

Davis broke the tie with a vote against immediately reinstating Dooley.

McCardwell called many witnesses that testified to the fire board’s past actions as well as Dooley’s involvement in various departmental monetary transactions.

Perhaps one of the most discussed items was the Victory motorcycle and travel trailer that the board’s crusade committee moved to purchase in 2007. McCardwell said the purchase totaled approximately $30,000 — a transaction that he implied should have been brought before the board and bid out according to state statutes governing the board.

The motorcycle was purchased to raise money for the department’s annual Crusade for Children fund by selling $10 raffle tickets. McCardwell questioned if taxpayer dollars had been used to purchase that motorcycle.

“I’m indicating that they broke state law in numerous ways by spending $30,000 on inappropriate materials,” McCardwell said of the crusade committee.

Witness and former board chair Richard Wayne Jordan testified that generally any items costing the department or board more than $20,000 would be presented to the board and a request for bids would be advertised.

Mount Washington Fire Protection District secretary Joyce Scrogham testified that to her knowledge the purchase of the motorcycle was not presented to the board. She said that Vires — who serves as the board’s treasurer — signed the check and that she co-signed it because most district checks need two signatures.

Certified Public Accountant William Hollister testified that he was surprised to learn that the district had purchased a motorcycle, but said he hadn’t completed the district’s audit yet and his findings were inconclusive.

“Something of this nature that’s for an outside purpose should’ve been reported under the controls of the Crusade for Children,” Hollister said.

Hollister also testified that he was unaware of the crusade committee account and the firemen’s fund account until about a month ago. The crusade committee and firemen’s fund account are the two accounts in question regarding Bullitt circuit court charges against Dooley and former employee Capt. Anthony Judd.

Dooley is not accused of stealing any of the department’s funds.

Hollister continued to say that he was only aware of accounts made known to him by the board. He said if the board didn’t report an account to him, he would be unable to include it in the audit.

Discussions of the forgery that Judd is accused of also were a point of discussion at the hearing. Judd was recently indicted in Bullitt Circuit Court on charges of theft by unlawful taking over $300 and second-degree forgery.

McCardwell claimed that board chair Melvin Davis was aware of the accusations of Judd forging checks for several months before filing criminal charges against both Dooley and Judd with the Mount Washington police.

Davis claimed in a written statement that all the decisions he made in the past he made in the best interest of the fire department.

“I have to ask myself, ‘In my short tenure on the Mount Washington Fire Protection District Board of Trustees, has every decision I have made been the right one? Maybe so, maybe not. I know that at the time they were made I felt they were right for the overall well-being of the district,” Davis wrote.

Davis continued by writing that all the money that he had been accountable for during his tenure as fire board chair was properly handled.

“I can assure you, every penny that I may have been responsible for has been accounted for and is in the proper place,” he wrote.

McGregor said he didn’t know when Davis became aware of the forgery allegations.

“I don’t know anything about whether (Davis) did or didn’t know,” McGregor said following the hearing. “I would hope that people would try to take care of things and resolve things without having to do what we’re doing.”

McCardwell said two board members have family members that are currently serving on the fire department, which causes a conflict of interest. He was referring to members Gary Lawson and Darrell Vires. Lawson has a nephew currently on the department and Vires has a son on the department.

Following the hearing McGregor said fire board members having family serving on the department isn’t uncommon nor is it a problem in Mount Washington’s case. He also noted during the hearing that there is no law stating that the family member of a fire district employee cannot sit on the board.

“It’s pretty common in the fire business that when you’re in it, your family gets into it,” he said.

McGregor continued to say that neither Vires nor Lawson have voted on issues directly affecting the hiring or firing of their family members.

“They always abstain,” he said. “When it’s concerning their sons or family members those board members always abstain.”

McCardwell said it is also unethical that board members are able to sign checks on accounts for which they can receive departmental payments for services rendered.

However, McGregor said that has never been a problem for the board.

“We’ve got a CPA looking at it and the prior attorney and the current attorney,” McGregor said. “Most of these things have been checked off and there’s not any issue there. Just because someone can sign a check doesn’t mean they have.”

McCardwell also questioned past board member Jimmy Beverly as to why he stepped down before his term was completed.

Beverly testified that he felt fraud was occurring while he served on the board and wished to step down because of it.

“A certain trustee member was coming up to do odds and ends jobs for $12 and hour,” Beverly said. “And he would submit a bill for his time.

“When any bids were out for the work, this board member was in charge of opening the bids. In my opinion, no trustee on the board should have any way, shape or form of making money (from) the board or district.”

McGregor said following the hearing that his response to McCardwell’s many accusations about the board was that they were not consistent with the purpose of the hearing.

He added that many of the accusations were unfounded and didn’t need to be discussed at a hearing called to address accusations involving Dooley.

“The hearing’s not over,” he said. “It’s supposed to be about chief Dooley. It’s not supposed to be about anyone else. If anyone thinks that the fire district is doing something wrong, there are legal things they can do to try and come in and look at it.

“If someone can show us where we violated the law, then by all means, we will correct it.”

Dooley’s hearing in front of the Mount Washington Fire Protection Board will continue Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Mount Washington Fire Department.

Several more witnesses are expected to be called that evening, including Mount Washington Police Det. Buddy Stump who conducted the criminal investigation of Judd and Dooley.