News 5 Investigates

Feb 27, 2014 8:34 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Guardians: Black Forest fire board members address concerns

For the first time, we are hearing from Black Forest fire board members following the independent investigation that cleared Chief Bob Harvey on any wrongdoing. Although that investigation is over, tension and trust issues still linger.

"Our credibility was at risk and we needed to set the record straight," board chairman Ed Bracken said. "The citizens of this community are demanding answers. They are demanding answers as to what Chief Harvey's performance was and I think the report clearly exonerates him."

The reason for the report was to answer questions about Harvey's allocation of resources and time management during the fire. It's not so much the report which stirred up controversy, but rather the $50,000 cost associated with it.

"This is going to put an impact on us," Bracken said. "We are not going to go bankrupt tomorrow, but we're going to have to adjust our budget."

We learned the board budgets a reserve fund of about $800,000 for unexpected expenses.

In addition to asking questions about the cost of the investigation, we're also finding out why the fire board remained so secretive.

"We couldn't talk about the investigation because it would continue to just stir up controversy," Bracken said.

The board said it made the decision early on not to speak with the media or release information until the investigation was complete. The board also advised Chief Harvey not to make any statements.

Board members like Rick McMorran question that decision.

"It's critical the board be transparent with the public," he said. "We represent the public and they have a right to know what we are doing."

McMorran agrees that certain information about the investigation needed to be kept confidential, but says overall there was a lack of communication that left many in the dark.

"The public should know how things are progressing and when to expect results and things like that," McMorran said. "The concerns I've addressed about issues of transparency haven't seemed to change anything and given that fact, I'm ready to see some new faces on the board that are willing to speak with the public and be open to the public."

While board member Bill Marchant believes the current board can work together to resolve these issues, he welcomes the opportunity for change.

"I encourage people to run for the board," Marchant said. "If somebody wanted to get involved with this district, I welcome it."

Board elections take place in May.

Members Rick McMorran and Bill Marchant still have another two years in office.

Meanwhile, board chairman Ed Bracken and board members Preston Cooper and Walt Seelye's terms are up.

All three want to stay on the board. They say if re-elected, they plan to keep Harvey as Black Forest fire chief.

 

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