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Misappropriation of funds alleged

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Note: The following notes were taken while on assignment in Avalon tonight. More developments and follow-ups will be made exclusive in The Ellis County Press.

UPDATE: Since 1999, a verbal contract has been in place between the emergency services district and the Avalon Volunteer Fire board.

The ESD No. 8 (which includes Avalon) manages the tax dollars that come in from that specific district; the AVFD and ESD No. 8 are two separate entities.

Got a request from folks in Avalon last week to attend tonight's fire department board meeting in which allegations of the "misappropriation of funds" -- tax dollars -- would be brought out in the open.

Before The Ellis County Press' Chantel James and I had to leave (I was starting to get real sick due to this prolonged fever) early, we video taped the reading of the last fire department board's minutes -- and in those minutes laid the entire story.

The BlackBerry notes I was able to leave with:

  • Cell phone bills have "major discrepancies"
  • Fire Chief Roy Scruggs was suspended as chief pending an audit
  • Scruggs' wife, Debbie, serves on the ESD 8 board of directors; since the suspension of her husband, ESD 8 presented a contract to the Avalon VFD board to take over all operations and ultimately disband the entire department on May 31, 2008; AVFD board members say this is "retaliation" for suspending Scruggs;
  • Over $5,000 in cell phone bills reported
  • One of those cell phones belongs to Debbie, according to the AVFD spokesman
  • AVFD pays roughly $2,200 on cell phone bills
  • Some bills are being mailed to firemen, which caused board members (which are appointed by county commissioners) to express concern that proper bookkeeping wasn't taking place
  • A pro-bono auditor reported that receipts have not been turned over and that no paper trail of spending exists (so far); their deadline to turn those documents over is May 31
  • A little over $6,000 exists in the current ESD budget
  • A motion to bring Scruggs back as a fireman - and not the chief - was approved, but he cannot act as chief (which stipulates no access to bank accounts)
  • Two ATM cards with almost identical card numbers were "mistakenly" used by Scruggs - but he reportedly paid the accounts back
  • The acting chief spoke - Jimmy Mitchell - numerous times before the packed Avalon Volunteer Fire Department building in support of Scruggs
  • Firemen went door to door to get people at the meeting tonight (it was packed)
  • Scruggs presented a contract to allow for the Waxahachie/Forreston departments to run Avalon's department during the financial situation
  • Some audience members didn't buy into that proposal
  • Before leaving, Scruggs was reportedly on his way to the meeting; he had reportedly neglected to show up citing a lack of legal counsel
  • Audience members said Scruggs should be present during the allegations being made public
  • A board vote was approved to return hose valves to save money which would in turn, replenish the bank account
  • Of a recent grant used to obtain four pieces of fire equipment, only one was purchased and used (i.e., where's the rest of the money?)

Avalon doesn't have its own incorporated town; they have a tiny school district and a volunteer fire department, and are included in fire district, so things spread quickly down there.

Avalon is located on Highway 34 not too far from Italy and Bardwell.

Jimmy Mitchell, the assistant chief who had administrative oversight of the cell phone bills, was asked to resign by the AVFD and did so last night.

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