It was the Kerens Volunteer Fire Department in the spotlight again Tuesday at the Navarro County Emergency Services District #1 meeting in Powell.
The Kerens department got bad news last month when it was revealed that one of their own members may have stolen money from the small department. Partial funding for the department comes from the ESD, so the ESD got involved, demanding that Kerens meet with an attorney to get their affairs in order, and that the department start using a professional bookkeeper.
Kerens firefighters, for their part, have been cooperative with all the suggestions, and even agreed to have ESD board member Fran Nickell as a liaison between them and the board in the future.
However, the department chose its own accountant — Danny Gordon of Corsicana — rather than the bookkeeper recommended by the ESD.
After a couple of quick phone calls to Ken Campbell, the ESD’s attorney, the board voted to appoint Nickell as the liaison and gave its blessing on hiring Gordon, which had been questioned as a potential conflict of interest. Many of the Kerens Volunteer Fire Department firefighters are related, and one of Gordon’s employees is related to them, as well.
Once the board had gotten the stamp of lawyerly approval, the ESD board also agreed to pay for the accountant to help Kerens straighten out its financial records. The money came from the already-budgeted audit money.
That’s not to say there weren’t some tense moments. ESD Board Chairman David Foreman chastised the Kerens department, saying that they were four years late in getting their house in order. The alleged theft within the department was discovered in May, and had been going on for three or four months before that.
Defending the department, Powell VFD Chief Kyle Ware said that four months isn’t very long in the life of a volunteer fire fighter, who’s juggling work, home and volunteerism on the side.
“I’d like to commend the fire service for finding it as quickly as they did,” Ware said.
Foreman said he’d attended one of the Kerens VFD meetings and there hadn’t been a financial report.
“This board is here to be partners with the VFDs,” Foreman said. “It’s the departments’ responsibility to keep us in compliance with state law.”
The greatest challenge will be getting the department back on course, with a written Standard Operating Procedures manual, training records, and finances lined up, Nickell told the board.
“The hard part is getting it in order,” she said. “I don’t think, once it gets going, it will be that hard.”
Kerens was also encouraged to have an audit done, to make sure they knew the full extent of the financial problems.
“One of their action items is ‘do we know everything?’” Nickell said. “They know they don’t. But y’all have taken the first steps.”
Nickell will also act as liaison for the Powell department, at the request of Ware.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com