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Volunteer Fire Department Must Give Up Financial Records

Painted Cave Fire Department | Credit: Paul Wellman

Judge Thomas Anderle ruled in favor of several Painted Cave residents on Tuesday morning in the case of Painted Cave Ad Hoc Committee vs. Board of Directors of the Painted Cave Volunteer Fire Department, finding that the board must turn over documents revealing how the department spends its money and hold public meetings. Anderle’s decision comes after a months-long argument between Painted Cave residents and the volunteer fire department over the department’s alleged secrecy over where it spends its funds; since the lawsuit has been filed, the department has effectively ceased to operate. 

During Tuesday’s arguments, the board’s lawyer Cameron Goodman stated that the volunteer fire department is a private entity, not a public one, and should not be required to release the documents. He said there is “no available precedent” for a case like this, adding that requiring the volunteer group to release financial documents — tantamount to requiring them to act as a public entity — would be costly and time consuming. “It would mean the end of the Painted Cave fire department from a financial standpoint,” Goodman claimed. 

However, Anderle’s ruling states that its Board of Directors referred to itself as a public entity in 2018 and must turn over the documents. The judge also granted a 20-day stay on his ruling to give time to file an appeal, which Goodman later said his clients were considering. 

The ad hoc committee’s lawyer, Phillip Seymour, said he hopes both parties can resolve the issue “as early as possible.” After the meeting, Seymour said the fire department would be “foolish to keep fighting” in an appeal. “They would rather spend money on the ability to do things behind closed doors,” he added. 

The committee first sued the board in March 2019 over violations of the Brown Act and the Public Records Act, alleging “major misappropriation of funds” — specifically, that the designated volunteer chief, Kevin Buckley, “maintained a strict policy of secrecy” over the more than $3 million received by the fire department. The complaint alleges Buckley used $675,000 for personal expenses, including a 62-inch flat-screen television and a custom dining table. According to the complaint, Buckley was also given checks for contract work that never started or was “grossly inflated.” 

Correction: This story was corrected on August 29, 2019, to reflect that the complaint alleges the Painted Cave Volunteer Fire Department received $3 million and that Buckley used $675,000 for his personal expenses.

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