Volunteer fire board accuses ESD of retaliation
The Ellis County Press
AVALON – Allegations of misappropriation of funds were leveled against the volunteer fire department’s chief and assistant Tuesday for $5,000 in cell phone bills and the mis-use of ATM cards.
The chief, Roy Scruggs, was suspended pending the outcome of an independent audit, but was voted back to the department as a fireman, which would prevent him from handling any bank accounts or other financial duties.
The assistant chief, Jimmy Mitchell, resigned after the meeting at the Avalon Volunteer Fire Department board’s request.
Though separate from the AVFD, the area’s emergency services district – one of nine rural fire districts with the power to lay and collect property taxes – has given AVFD a proposal to turn over all equipment and department property by midnight May 31 in hopes of dissolving the department; board members with the AVFD said the ESD No. 8 contract is retaliation due to Scruggs’ wife, Debbie, serving as the ESD No. 8 treasurer.
Mitchell’s resignation came after questions about thousands of dollars in cell phone bills were brought up; those cell phones were purchased under a proposal for firemen to use on calls; Mitchell had administrative oversight of the cell phones, AVFD spokesman Mark Alaniz said.
Though they are separate entities, AVFD obtains funding for equipment, fire trucks and general supplies and fuel reimbursements from the ESD.
Since 1999, according to Alaniz, a verbal agreement has existed between the two entities for AVFD’s funding to be distributed from ESD No. 8.
Notes from Tuesday night’s AVFD board meeting:
- 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’s share of cell phone payments is roughly $2,200 annually
- Some bills are being mailed to firemen, which caused AVFD board members to express concern that proper bookkeeping wasn't taking place
- A little over $6,000 exists in the current AVFD 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
- Scruggs presented a contract to allow for the Waxahachie/Forreston fire districts 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 ESD No. 8.
- Avalon is located on Highway 34 not too far from Italy and Bardwell.
AVFD Board Members
Avalon ESD No. 8 Board
H.L. “Sonny” Southard