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home : opinion : columns July 27, 2015

12/22/2013 6:00:00 AM
Guest Column: Points to ponder on Golden Valley Fire District
Golden Valley board has blown hundreds of thousands of dollars
Jack Hommel
Golden Valley Resident

In an attempt at clarification in the matter of the Golden Valley Fire District recall(s), I would like to bring the following points into the open for all to see.

Contrary to the spurious claims made by the current majority of the board of directors, the recalls against Steven Robinson, Mark Vanik and Curt Hardy have nothing whatsoever to do with the current chief, who is a professional doing a professional's job. It must be noted that the fire chief is merely an employee of the board carrying out the instructions of the board.

Further, it must be remembered that every single thing that takes place within the Golden Valley Fire District is the complete and absolute responsibility of the board of directors and of that body alone. The effort being made by the above mentioned directors to deflect attention away from their own shortcomings and failures is purely misdirection, nothing more nor less.

The board's most recent fiasco has to do with GVFD's quest, ongoing since at least as early as October 2010, for a certificate of necessity for ground ambulance service, which can be granted by the state of Arizona. According to documents provided to me by the GVFD administrative office in response to a request under the Arizona Public Records Law §39.101 et seq., Golden Valley Fire District has expended, $232,391.35 as of Nov. 14 for attorneys' fees alone in this matter.

Now, to compound this fiscal ineptitude, on Oct. 15, Golden Valley Fire District filed a motion for a stay of administrative proceedings. This action was taken despite warnings to GVFD by the Arizona Department of Health Services that "it is certain" that it will "add significantly" to the expense and length of this administrative process and that "the stay" must "encompass Golden Valley's entire CON application process." This stay of proceedings means, in effect, that GVFD must start from scratch if this effort is to be resumed.

Because of this decision, this board is now responsible for the waste of almost a quarter-million dollars of the taxpayers' hard-earned money, plus untold thousands more to come if and when the quest starts again.

Another of the numerous reasons for the initiation of a recall against Robinson, Vanik and Hardy is that they either do not know Arizona's open meeting law as it applies to them or they simply choose to ignore the meaning and intent of the law. Clear proof of this can be seen by examining the minutes of GVFD meetings.

The numerous ratifications to be found are made only after the belated discovery of one or more of their errors or omissions. Their lack of caring or understanding can be witnessed by the many times that items not on the agenda are discussed and acted upon or by the numerous occasions on which agendized items are glossed over or ignored. Citizen complaints regarding these issues have been filed with and are being investigated by office of the attorney general.

Closely akin to these failings are the frequent times when the chairman appears to take direction from director Robinson rather than maintaining his own control of the meeting. It is also not uncommon to have Chairman Vanik give control of the meetings over to a town hall or open forum atmosphere as opposed to the legally prescribed meeting structure.

There are also some vexing blips pointing to the board's fiscal irresponsibility, including documents which indicate an approximate $300,000 cost overrun in the construction of the newest fire station. This is heartily disputed by the board, but the documents in hand appear to be an accurate reflection of reality. There are also some indicators that there were irregularities and improprieties in the bid process, with one contractor being granted a privilege denied to a qualified, competing contractor. There are indicators that the contract was awarded with numerous items left to be purchased and/or finished after the supposed completion.

Also bearing examination is a troublesome item further indicating the board's lack of concern for the financial well-being of the district and the community's taxpaying citizens. The board has granted the fire chief a salary rivaling that of the governor of the state. The chief's salary is said to be $94,500 per annum, plus a quality benefits package and a fat golden parachute, whereas Gov. Brewer's compensation is stated at $95,000 yearly.

Does this irresponsible board really believe that the taxpayers of Golden Valley want to dispense money this generously? Does an employee of Golden Valley's taxpaying citizens truly deserve to be paid as much as the governor of the state of Arizona?

Director Robinson is quoted in the Nov. 4 Miner as pointing out "several informal meetings" between the chief and various board members. A close examination of Arizona's Open Meetings Law will strongly suggest that this sort of arrangement can be seen as violating the "serial meetings" portion of the law. This sort of dodging the letter and spirit of the law could lead to some exceedingly unpleasant consequences for the participants if the meetings can be shown to be "serial" in nature.

The board has been openly hostile to and clearly exhibits an anti-female bias in its treatment of Director Rhonda Brooks due to (again quoting Director Robinson) "the amount of time the board has lost ... trying to answer her questions." The better road for the board to have taken would have been to direct staff to research and provide answers at the next meeting rather than the blatantly misogynistic censure and request that she resign. Mr. Mark Frederick, a former board member, is quoted as stating, "They need for someone to give a different opinion. Brooks is voicing the opinion of others in the community and the board is handling it badly."

In summation, it is my heartfelt opinion that the current board majority of Robinson, Vanik and Hardy need to step aside or be put aside so that responsible citizens of Golden Valley can step in and conduct the affairs of the community with the needs of the taxpayers foremost in their hearts and minds. One clear and certain way to eliminate doubt in the minds of the valley's residents is to have the board and administration willingly submit to a forensic audit of the district's finances. If there are no skeletons in their closets, the board and administration have no reason to resist such a proceeding.

After all, the citizenry is supposed to be first in their concerns.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, January 5, 2014
Article comment by: Divide By Two

The Board needs to verify any information provided by the fire chief. After all, it's not the chief who will pay for bad decisions. It's all on the board.

Posted: Saturday, January 4, 2014
Article comment by: Fire District Conference, Laughlin

Open meeting law classes, and Fire District Finance classes. A chance for the Board to brush up on both Jan 17-18 in Laughlin....if staff decides to notify the Board.

Posted: Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Article comment by: Nepo Tism

Where do the "nepos" get the money to finance their own new business?

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013
Article comment by: Steven Robinson

@ "Tired of Donohue", Interesting... I thought Jack said this has, "...nothing whatsoever to do with the current chief". However your request for a forensic audit is interesting in light of a recent letter from a CPA about Kingman's finances.

Here is what Donald Lynch said regarding about your request, "There is no such thing as a forensic audit. Forensic accounting, forensic reporting and forensic analysis are done in order to prepare reports suitable for use in court for criminal prosecutions, civil suits, bankruptcy and other proceedings. On the other hand, an audit in accordance with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards, GAAS, is very thorough and includes a complete review of internal controls and compliance with laws, regulations and agreements."

IF your constant accusations under fictitious names weren't based on personality and instead on real issues, you'd come out in public. Instead, this small cadre of complainers doing all their attacks with false rumors, innuendos and outright LIES, have NOT ONE real valid complaint!! IF you did, you'd use your real names, and better yet you will speak out at the Town Hall on January 8th!!

I'll give you credit for at least admitting that your rants are about Chief O'Donohue, disproving Jack Hommel's disingenuous words.

Posted: Sunday, December 29, 2013
Article comment by: Tired of O'Donohue

I agree this district is in dire need of a forensic audit. If the chief and the board had nothing to hide or be worried about they would have one conducted to ease the fears of the community. By arguing the fact and not having one done just shows there is something not fiscally correct. I also agree the fire chief is WAY overpaid for the geographical area we reside. This is not Phoenix or Tucson. We are a small fire district in a rural area. 94,000 for this area is way extreme. Another fact that the people of the community must face is the fact the chief has received three raises as so has his assistant chief since his time here but the fire district still has employees from years back not receiving their correct pay. This is fact. I find it humorous how out of all the board members Steven Robinson has to be the pitbull spokesperson for the department. Maybe he needs to take lessons from his counterparts and butt out!!!!!!! Because of fear and retaliation, the department members are not allowed to speak freely of this issue (unless you are John Sutherland) then you are allowed free rein. We are in great need of change and of changing of guards as they say.

Posted: Sunday, December 29, 2013
Article comment by: Things They Are Not

Mike Hawk, the fire chief and the board are NOT: General contractors, conductors, paramedics, EMT's, sheriff deputies, lawyers, nor certified public accountants. They are fire chief and your neighbors, and are not qualified to step outside those job catagories.

Posted: Friday, December 27, 2013
Article comment by: vock canyon

wages here are far less because the cost of housing is far less. 94 k is way out of line for the area. Other fire chief wages cannot be used for comparison because of this.

The sad thing is the fire tax in realationship to the california district percentages, it is 3 times as much.

The cost overruns are silly high because the size of the new fire station is far larger than needed. The orginal costs were intentionaly under bid because of the size of the place and need for folks to work. It was never intended that all of the work be completed. The the board took them to be accurate and to be a good value because they lack the experiance in such matters or they are in bed with the contractors. The whole situation needs to roped in by the state. It is the only solution possible.

Posted: Friday, December 27, 2013
Article comment by: Chris Albuquerque

If the board isn't fiscally responsible and apparently not held responsible for their ineptitude why is Mohave County collecting our tax dollars for them. Lets stop paying the portion of our taxes that goes to these boards, instead let us band together and place the fire departments taxes in an escrow account and have the monies administered by people who will be held accountable.

Posted: Friday, December 27, 2013
Article comment by: V Stokes

"does not own property in the fire district..." etc etc.

So the election rules allow someone that doesn't live there to be elected to a position w/in the fire district? How is that possible? Seems very odd.

Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2013
Article comment by: Maggie May

It is funny that Director Robinson mentions "Our Tax Rate" in his comment, as he pays no taxes. Director Robinson does not own property in the fire district. In my opinion, he really does not care what he spends with mine tax dollars, as he has no ties to them. You make ask if he rents, the answer is no, does he have a job, once again the answer is no. I personally do not like a person on the fire board that does not have the taxpayers interest. Where do I sign the recall papers?

Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2013
Article comment by: We do pay

@ Desert Girl, Mr. Hommel as well as others do pay. We pay through our taxes, so to answer your question, yes he is paying out of his own pocket. People need to watch the videos on the Arizona State Legislature website on the Study Committee on Countywide Fire Districts. It is time for a countywide fire district. There is talk about no more Nepotism within the fire districts, more training for board members, as they need to learn the open meeting laws and the list goes on and on.

Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2013
Article comment by: brew ha ha

It seems to me the most reasonable thing for all is have the entire board resign and appoint a have the BOS appoint a caretaker until a new board can take over. This is the most responsible thing this board could do, particularly if they care for the community as they say they do. Stop this nonsense.

Posted: Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Article comment by: AZ State Legislature

Check out the AZ State Legislature videos. On October 23 you see the CON attorney arguing about the CON process! And there sits the fire chief for no apparent reason. We should not be paying$350.00 an hour for a guy to argue process

Posted: Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Article comment by: Bad Auditor

Desert girl, has that auditor been doing the audits for the past 4 years? He didn't catch the entire district being underpaid?That looks like a serious waste of taxpayer money.

Posted: Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Article comment by: Cracker Jacks

Where did they get that auditor? How do you underpay possibly every single employee for years (see the meeting minutes) and still have "the best audit we ever had"?

Posted: Monday, December 23, 2013
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

Jeanne Kentch so the aveage annual salary of fire chiefs is between $74,000 and $125,000 and this chiefs is $94,500 and the Governor of the state is $95,000! All your statement proves is any fire chief getting in excess of $75,000 might be getting over paid by over $20,000+ since one cannot even compare a governors job to a fire chiefs! Maybe all the fire chiefs getting in excess of $74,000 ought to be investigated as excessive and those who authorized them inept, not good stewards of the tax payers money! Solution make standard pay for all fire chiefs in state $74,000 with annual cost of living increases maybe but nothing more! As to the controversy a fire chief is a employee not a king!

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013
Article comment by: Ken Dixon

Mr.Hommel thanks for writing an excellent letter.

I totally agree with your statement that a forensic audit of the district's finances At the last meeting it was reported that the District owes 4 years of back wages to the firefighters. How much will that cost the taxpayers? Will the board increase the tax rates for more money? Maybe a recall is in order to save the taxpayers.

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013
Article comment by: Steven Robinson

Thank you for your comments Sherryl Arnold, and if you base your judgment solely on this post, I understand them fully. However, I sincerely ask you to withhold your condemnation until you hear all the facts. You will have ample opportunity to learn more if you will take the time to attend the Town Hall, scheduled for January 8th, and ask questions.

I can tell you some facts, however, that may surprise you: 1. Our tax rates are completely in line with other Districts of our size in the county, though I'd like for them to be lower.
2. Our 220 square mile district is the largest district within the county, yet we provide coverage for any and all emergencies, with our overhead costs the lowest of all districts with budgets in the $4-10 Million range.

If you are interested in finding out for yourself what the facts really are, don't hesitate to call the Chief and/or the Chairman Mark Vanik or myself. There's much to learn if you have an open mind to the facts.

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013
Article comment by: Forensic Audit

Placate the taxpayers and set up a forensic audit. That will shut everybody up, or expose a giant problem.

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013
Article comment by: Jim Consolato

Bravo !!!!! Well said.

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013
Article comment by: Desert Girl

Mr. Hommel, are you going to pay for the forensic audit out of your own pocket or are you attempting to cause another expense to be incurred by the fire department? Isn't the fire department already audited each year?

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013
Article comment by: Mike Hawk

I agree 100% with your comments except for the part where the Fire Chief is NOT involved. An elected board is like an orchestra and with an orchestra you need a conductor who will lead the band!

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013
Article comment by: Sherryl Arnold

No wonder our taxes for the Fire Dept. are so high here in Golden Valley! These people remind me of the Bell, California group that were taking the tax payers for everything they could get. LET'S GET RID OF THEM!

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013
Article comment by: Jeanne Kentch

Jack, I did a survey about 5 years ago and found the salary for fire department chiefs around this state to be between $74,000 and $125,000. I thought I would share this with you. Comparing the salary against other chief's would be more appropriate, rather than comparing it with the governor's pay.
Additionally, I am confused on the section above that relates to the communications with the chief and the board. The chief is the employee of the board, communications must exist in order to run the district efficiently. Can you explain how this would be against the law? Thanks and have a wonderful Christmas.

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