Amid allegations of mismanagement that have dogged the agency for months, the president of Hahnville’s Volunteer Fire Department said this week that he will ask the state Legislative Auditor’s Office to review the department’s financial records for much of the past decade.
Any such request must first be approved by a two-thirds vote of the department’s 40 members, a move that could come Wednesday. Doing so is in the department’s best interests, President Christopher Boros said, “to see if everything is in the proper scope.”
Meanwhile, the state Ethics Board is investigating the department, according to a report in the St. Charles Herald-Guide newspaper, although the nature of the investigation is not known. In May, the department’s business committee approved a motion to provide legal representation for members of the department who received target letters from the Ethics Board, according to the minutes.
Boros declined to answer questions about whether the agency has received any requests for records related to the investigation.
State Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen declined comment Tuesday.
The volunteer department provides emergency fire and medical services in a 20-square-mile area near Hahnville and Taft in St. Charles Parish.
Tensions at the agency have been high in recent months after it was reported that $71,412 in grant money received after Hurricane Katrina must be returned to the state because fire officials did not maintain adequate records to document spending and overtime. The lapse came to light in an 2012 audit, which was conducted by T.S. Kearns & Co., a Thibodaux accounting firm. The audit was released by the Legislative Auditor’s Office last September.
The department has been without a chief since Stanley Wajda resigned last month after less than a year on the job. Wajda’s resignation came shortly after he expressed concern about the ethics probe at the May meeting. He has said that items purchased using the Katrina grant money, including pots and pans, have disappeared, according to The Herald-Guide.
A day after the meeting, Wajda — who could not be reached for comment — found a threatening note attached to his vehicle, according to an incident report filed with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office. Wajda said he did not know who left the note, though he acknowledged that the previous day’s meeting included “a heated discussion among several members regarding ethics violations within the department.”
Boros said Monday that for someone to leave such a note was inappropriate, but he downplayed its significance.
“If we do have a problem within the department, I can tell you right now that it will be dealt with,” he said.
The Fire Department is funded largely through ad valorem and sales taxes. It ended 2012 with $1.9 million more in assets than liabilities, according to the audit.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.