Kevin Buckley, fire chief of the Painted Cave Volunteer Fire Department, has been accused of using departmental funds to buy an $1,800 dining room table, a $1,200 artificial Christmas tree, a 62-inch flat-screen TV, and hundreds of dollars’ worth of gas for travel unrelated to departmental business. These charges were included in a lawsuit filed this week filed by an ad hoc committee of Painted Cave residents who claim they’ve been forced to sue to get basic answers from Buckley and the fire department’s board of directors as to how money is being spent and decisions are getting made.
Included in the ad hoc committee are many members of the department itself, including attorney Phil Seymour — a former hotshot for the Forest Service — who drafted the complaint. Because the fire department is recognized as a tax-exempt nonprofit by the state, Seymour is arguing that Buckley and the board must comply with all the open-government rules pertaining to public documents and open meetings.
The lawsuit sprang out of concerns by some volunteer firefighters about lack of follow-through by Buckley, who has functioned as chief since 1998. The department was started in 1965 and officially incorporated as a nonprofit in 2003. The lawsuit states it has received $675,000 in grants since 2005 and that Buckley has drawn compensation of $60,000 a year. Efforts to get access to financial records to determine where the money’s coming from and where it’s going, Seymour complained, have been met with “furious resistance.” Buckley, he contended, ran the department with “incompetence and secretive management style.”
At a community meeting held on February 9, 93 Painted Cave residents showed up. Boardmembers reportedly asked for more time to conduct an internal inquiry of their own. Those efforts have been dismissed by committee members as either ineffectual or insincere, thus giving rise to the lawsuit. In the meantime, the department retained the services of Rich Lauritsen, a fire captain with the Montecito Fire Department out on injury leave. Lauritsen reportedly sent out an email on February 11 effectively disbanding the department indefinitely. Typically, spring is the time when volunteers and cadets begin preparing for fire season. Phone calls to Buckley and Boardmember Rich Roblar have not been returned.