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June 21, 2013

ESD to seek audit of Kerens VFD

KERENS — The Emergency Services District #1 will be asking for an audit from the Kerens Volunteer Fire Department, in the wake of revelations that the small department had some money stolen from its bank account.

The department’s former treasurer, Kaell Mullen, a volunteer himself, has been arrested and charged with theft by a public servant.

An investigation by the Kerens Police Department determined that about $2,900 had been siphoned off the department’s bank account using a debit card. It’s unclear how much of that money was from private donations, from grants from the state or was from the Emergency Services District #1. The ESD contracts with Kerens VFD and Powell VFD to provide fire response to the southeastern part of the county.

“They’re taking the steps they need to now,” said David Foreman, who is chairman of the ESD #1. The ESD recommended a specific lawyer to the fire department, and they’ve agreed to turn over their books to a professional bookkeeper, Foreman said.

“And there will be an audit,” he said.

The theft escaped the notice of the fire department’s board because they’d been given spreadsheets instead of the actual bank statements, according to Fire Chief Charlie Bush.

The ESD board has a series of financial controls that would be useful for Kerens to use, as well, Foreman said.

Among the controls the ESD uses are not using a debit card, not buying off the Internet unless it’s through an established account, not allowing checks to be written unless they’re signed by more than one person, requiring a board vote for any expenses, and requiring more than one person to oversee the financial statements.

“I think we’re going to get the accountability and transparency we need,” Foreman said. “Because of these problems, a good man’s name is tarnished. Kaell’s a good man. And Kerens is a good fire department with a lot of good volunteers, and we want to keep it that way.”

The goal for both agencies is accountability, transparency and “a team concept to provide the citizens with fire protection. And if we can’t have that, then changes will have to be made,” Foreman said.

The problem isn’t just Kerens’ problem, Foreman said. “It’s ours, also. We’ve got to make sure it’s right.

“We just want to make sure money’s not being wasted and we’ve got volunteers who can get in a truck and go fight a fire,” Foreman said.

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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