Lawsuit Alleges Painted Cave Volunteer Fire Department Misused Funds
By edhat staff
A new lawsuit is claiming the Painted Cave Fire Department and its Chief have misused funds and refuses to release their records.
The lawsuit was filed by the Painted Cave Ad Hoc Committee (PCAHC), a group of 16 firefighters and local residents formed this past December, asking the Santa Barbara County Superior Court to find that the Painted Cave Volunteer Fire Department (PCVFD) is a legally defined public agency in the State of California and is subject to the Public Records and Brown Acts, to which such an agency must comply.
The fire department was created as a volunteer fire company in 1965, under the authority of California H&S Code § 14825, for the small Painted Cave community off Highway 154 as it's more remote and subjected to increased fire danger.
Since 2003, the Board of Directors of the Painted Cave Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, has managed the department. Kevin Buckley has been the only Fire Chief and President of the Board from 2003 into 2019.
During the past several years, the lawsuit states volunteer firefighters of the PCVFD have had increasing concerns over the management of the department and the actions of the Chief. All efforts to resolve the issues internally with the firefighters and the board have reportedly failed.
The lawsuit states PCAHC performed its own investigation where evidence was gathered to support allegations of mismanagement in the areas of fiscal integrity, operational competence, and compliance with legal governance. It continues to allege that Buckley used department funds to buy a flat screen television, a dining room table worth $1,800, an artificial Christmas tree worth $1,200, and hundreds more on gas for unrelated travel.
PCAHC states it submitted a Public Records Act to the department's board requesting records to document and confirm these allegations. The ad-hoc group also asked the board to open their meetings to the community and allow for public comment, in compliance with the Brown Act. The lawsuit states both requests were denied through the department's attorney.
"The PCAHC filing initiates the process for bringing the PCVFD into compliance with its legal obligations to act as an open and honest fire protection agency that works for the public, not for the profit of certain individuals," according to a press release by the PCAHC.
The lawsuit asks for the PCVFD Board to recover all funds illegally taken from fire department bank accounts, to enforce the Brown Act and Public Records Act, and asks the court to find that the PCVFD is a public agency that must comply with the law.
Currently, the PCVFD board has suspended firefighter operations. This comes just as fire season preparations are underway.
Court hearing dates are expected to be set in the near future.