Not Yours

I feel it prudent to bring to your attention to what I consider to be a possible gross misappropriation of public funds.

Over $8600 was spent on all-expense paid trip to Colorado, none of which was for public safety.

After the September Board of Commissioners meeting, I requested, and recently received, records from SKF&R regarding what appears to be the unjustified use of taxpayer funds to send eleven people to a union event held in Colorado Springs.

Those records show that for year 2010, both Commissioner James Fossos and Commissioner Ed Rickert attended this event in Colorado Springs at taxpayer expense.

In reviewing the department budget code to which these expenses were charged,  (522.20.43.541 Outside Training / Travel / Lodging [For outside Training and Conferences for Administrative Staff]) , I was not provided with any documentation identifying the activities for which they were compensated as being within the line item description.

From an auditors standpoint, I seriously believe that money paid for this kind of travel to a union event would not meet this budget code description.

Does it pass the smell test?

I am very concerned with the lack of transparency, integrity and authority in the decision to request tax payer money for travel to a union organized event.

There was no commissioner business, no training, no college classes and no seminars or conferences at the Colorado Springs union sponsored event that would have even remotely be construed to have been (section 16.1) “authorized travel, subsistence, registration and related expenses while on Departmental Business” and that indeed (Section 16.7) “reimbursement shall only qualify for travel and travel days and for days spent in attendance at conferences and meetings” and that members shall “not be reimbursed or compensated for expenses not directly attributed to the business of the Board”.

Additionally, as elected officials and supposed guardians of the public trust and finances, I was further distressed to learn than the district also paid mandated taxpayer funds for, and apparently Commissioner James Fossos and Commissioner Ed Rickert condoned, an additional nine people to attend this same event. And again, each and every one of them were in attendance at an event that falls severely short of qualified training for purposes that would relate back to the stated goal of spending mandated taxpayer money on public safety. Which has cost the taxpayers of this district over $8,600 for a four day all-expense-paid trip!

The Remedy

From the information that I have received, which I believe from its source (SKF&R) to be factual, and for not providing fiscal control as decreed, the reasonable conclusion is that both Commissioner James Fossos and Commissioner Ed Rickert have failed to meet the conditions of the Role of the Board of Fire Commissioners .

For remedy, the least they should do is to publicly apologize for thinking it prudent to take tax payer money for personal expenses, reimburse without delay all monies received for this trip and require that every person who took taxpayer money to attend this union sponsored event follow their lead and promptly return it.

As this action on the commissioners part apparently reveals a faulty underlying belief that they feel justified in taking tax payer money for personal benefit, [some would call it embezzlement], in order to attempt to retain, or restore, the integrity within the remainder of the SKF&R department, I further suggest that, after paying back the money, Commissioner James Fossos and Commissioner Ed Rickert vacate their positions immediately. Ask yourself, ‘If they feel that these actions are justified, will other decisions withstand public scrutiny?’ Did not the thought of whether this was ethical even cross their minds?

Great timing or what?

Ironic that these elected officials decided, without public awareness, to take this personal trip at public expense while publicly promoting a picture of a fire district that is financially broke. Indeed, so desperate for funds that, according the Chief Church, we can expect cuts in service if funding is not stabilized through the Service Benefit Charge.

Instead of controlling the budget, Commissioner James Fossos applied for his Advance Travel Request less than one week after Prop 1 failed, Commissioner Ed Rickert waited until just before leaving to ask for his $166 food money. ($66 dollars per day. Since they took it in advance, do they get to keep it all, even if they only spent $30 per day?)

Let us not forget, unless I am mistaken, a commissioners duty is to “commit our resources to provide the highest level of emergency service to the citizens of our community”**, have the integrity to protect the public money, trust and safety, as well as maintain a high caliber Fire Department. Nothing in there about an annual trek to Colorado.

What were the taxpayers being charged for?

On October 31, 2006, a SKF&R employee, Fire Fighter John Waller, died from work related injuries.

Over three years later, the International Association of Fire Fighters AFL-CIO decided to add his name to Wall of Honor on the Fallen Firefighters Memorial, which was established by the IAFF union in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The memorial for Fire Fighter Waller took place on September 11th of this year.

Tax dollars or private dollars?


Before you attack me as being cold-hearted and uncaring, let me clear something up.I am not casting one ounce of shadow on the honor of a local firefighter. Here is what I am asking; is the taxpayer expected to pay for personal mourning? I say not.

In the private sector, if a fellow worker dies, even on the job, we would be expected to grieve personally and use our own time and resources to pay tribute. We certainly would not have been treated to a four day all-expense paid trip to mourn him. Apparently, the public sector feels different. After all, it’s not their money, is it?

And if you are going to send one person, it is just as wrong to send a dozen. Hey, the whole department should have been able to attend, right? Why limit it to just a select few? Taxpayers are footing the bill, so why not?

Regardless of how personally emotional an event may seem, acting in an official capacity, a commissioner does not have authority to spend tax dollars on charity.  However you choose to explain it, how do you justify using taxpayer money to assuage your personal feelings or elevate it beyond an act of charity? Just exactly how did taking this trip prudently or properly serve the public? Or even follow the guiding principles of a fire district board member?

Tax dollars are Not Yours To Give*, or in this case, take.

You thought I overlooked something, didn’t you?

Well, maybe I did, but let me address one more fact that came out of the records. Fire Chief / Administrator Allen D. Church, approved of all of this! His signature appears throughout the documents in the OK TO PAY authorization box. And if he wasn’t available, then Assistant Chief Ed Plumlee was the other signature.

You remember those names, right? Those dire doom-n-gloom articles in the Federal Way Mirror were written by them.

Pass Prop 1 or we will cut positions, reduce staff, lose our insurance rating, etc.

But apparently not eliminate travel!

Just days after the election, on August 26, Chief Church said “immediate cuts” but he didn’t really mean cutting non-emergency spending. You see, he approved spending your taxes for what I believe is personal travel, just three days earlier signing travel requests for two commissioners, and his assistant chief, to go to Colorado!

On August 18th, Chief Al Church said that in January the fire district will take one aid car out of service. Five days later he is sending co-workers on paid trips using your money.

And on July 31st, Assistant Chief Ed Plumlee offered this defense of Prop 1, then just days after the defeat and certainty of budget cuts next year, signed travel requests for EIGHT more people to travel with him, on the public dime, to Colorado Springs.

Where is the integrity? Where is the transparency? Where is the accountability? Where else are these ‘leaders’ spending your hard earned tax dollars, all the while promising to deny you of vital emergency services?

I will keep looking. And you can help me. It is your money.

*Davy Crockett  and the video

Role of the Board of Fire Commissioners

The role of the Board of Fire Commissioners of South King Fire and Rescue is to establish the policies and budget of the district; provide fiscal controls; provide a conduit to the citizens of the community; and to employ a Fire Chief/Administrator to implement and direct the necessary functions and the adopted strategic plan of the District.

**Guiding Principles

Through honest, open and visionary leadership; we, the Board of Fire Commissioners for South King Fire and Rescue, lead by example, hold ourselves accountable and treat each other with dignity and respect. In so going, we embrace and accept change, and commit our resources to provide the highest level of emergency service to the citizens of our community.

We will respect each other and each others opinion; and will support and hold each other accountable by confronting behavior that does not add value to our ability to serve.

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