By: Ron Williams "Delaware Online"
The latest and most explosive issue facing the Delaware fire service has ironically surfaced through an executive order by Gov. Minner, never known as an agitator of firefighters.
But agitated some are, fire service sources tell me, as expected.
Executive Order 99 instructs the state Fire Prevention Commission -- the regulatory body of all fire companies -- to determine the benefit of having the books of each fire company publicly audited. That, of course, is like asking the benefit of the sun rising every morning.
Couched in the traditional whereases and therefores, the governor is saying she wants the fire companies to finally become publicly accountable. Her order even specifically refers to that: "Whereas, volunteer fire companies receive funds from the State of Delaware, county governments and through donations from the citizens of Delaware, and Whereas, periodic examination of financial records are beneficial to any organization... ."
This move by Minner, for those who haven't followed this issue over the past decade, is big time gutsy on her part. The fire service, the third rail of Delaware politics, has for years successfully fended off any interference from "civilian" ranks into their private, non-profit country clubs. They've been able to do this with consistent financial support of candidates favorable to their beliefs and agendas and companies' on-the-street help during campaigns.
Minner, of course, being a lame duck and looking forward to a leisurely retirement in 18 months, apparently said to hell with the third political rail.
She also was prompted by an incident in her own Carlisle Fire Company of Milford. A recently convicted fire company member was apparently voted back into the company. One thing Milford resident Minner is known for is outrage, especially when it embarrasses her or her homestead.
Executive Order 99 also comes on the heels of two very public embezzlement cases involving Cranston Heights and Frederica fire companies -- and who knows how many were not public or even reported. Both treasurers were found guilty. One went to jail.
But the Delaware Volunteer Firemen's Association sat back and did nothing -- not so much as a public regret for the embarrassment those companies brought on the fire service.
The executive order calls for the Fire Prevention Commission to make recommendations by Oct. 1 on the frequency in which audits of fire company financial records should be performed (annually would make sense to those of us who are taxpayers and annual contributors), and determine if legislation would be needed.
In a state where publicly supported fire companies like Slaughter Beach -- elevation sea level, no highrises -- buy $1 million ladder trucks, this kind of proposal is not going to sit well with many fire company presidents. This is also a state in which about 30 percent of the fire companies refuse to comply with state law and report their response times to ambulance and fire calls.
Christiana Fire Company is among the few statewide that routinely reports its financial statements to the public. They even hold public meetings to discuss their budget.
With every fire company in the state now an employer of up to 15 full-time firefighters and ambulance attendants, the public should have a full accounting of how their taxes and personal contributions are being used. And because contributions to fire companies are tax deductible, I'd think the IRS would be interested as well.
The issue of Minner's Executive Order 99 is on the Fire Prevention Commission's monthly meeting agenda on Tuesday. It'll be interesting to see to whom the commissioners feel beholden: Minner, who appointed them, or the fire company presidents who boast thatthey have the commission in their pockets.