Painted Cave Fire Department Ordered to Turn Over Financial Records

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Painted Cave Fire Department Ordered to Turn Over Financial Records
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Photo: Painted Cave Fire Department

By edhat staff

The Painted Cave Fire Volunteer Department (PCVFD) must turn over financial records after a local court ruling on Tuesday, reports The Independent.

A lawsuit was filed in March by the Painted Cave Ad Hoc Committee (PCAHC), a group of 16 firefighters and local residents formed this past December, claiming the misappropriation of funds by the PCVFD. Painted Cave residents stated the department is a legally defined public agency and is subject to the Public Records and Brown Acts.

The defense argued the PCVFD is a private entity and releasing financial documents would be too expensive and time consuming effectively shutting down the department. Judge Thomas Anderle ruled the PCVFD Board of Directors referred to themselves as a public entity in 2018 and must release financial records, reports The Independent.

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 PCVFD board has suspended firefighter operations since the lawsuit.

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March 28, 2019 - Lawsuit Alleges Volunteer Painted Cave Fire Department Misused Funds

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a-1569193783 Aug 31, 2019 01:25 AM
Painted Cave Fire Department Ordered to Turn Over Financial Records

SBtraveller: the difference between the Chiefs of Montecito and the Chief of Painted Cave Fire, is, that they actually showed up for 40+ hours a week, and were in charge of a two fully staffed stations. If you were to search the internet for Volunteer Fire Department Chief pay in California, you would find that Kevin Buckley was THE highest paid Volunteer Chief by a factor of at least 4, and the other Chiefs worked with a larger staff and more responsibility, and actually put in a lot more hours of work. I do not believe that a FEMA grant is from a 'Private" source, that is money from tax-payers, and that is what bought the $300,000.00 engine you see in the picture.

sbtraveler Aug 30, 2019 05:21 PM
Painted Cave Fire Department Ordered to Turn Over Financial Records

Pitmix--good points. Most--if not all--of the monies raised by the PCFD were from private sources which funded the equipment. No members of the Department were paid for work they did as firefighters. The Department was subject to rules and restrictions established by public fire agencies. Still--if you consider that Montecito Fire Department has 6 retired chiefs, all knocking down retirement salaries of over $250,000 year, Painted Cave had a pretty good deal. It is a sad thing for the community to lose the Department.

Flicka Aug 29, 2019 02:07 PM
Painted Cave Fire Department Ordered to Turn Over Financial Records

The residents of Painted Cave started their volunteer fire dept. in 1965 after the Coyote (1964)destroyed homes in their area. The fire entered Painted Cave because out of town firefighters lighted backfires below the enclave, not realizing there were houses up above. Also, the Forest Service and other fire departments wouldn't send personnel and equipment up to Painted Cave for fear they could get trapped. Friends living there evacuated to our home during the fire. On KEY-T they announced all the homes in Painted Cave had burned (inaccurate) and of course our friends were devastated. Luckily, their house didn't burn (others did).

PitMix Aug 29, 2019 10:31 AM
Painted Cave Fire Department Ordered to Turn Over Financial Records

As to whether they are public entities: The most definitive guidance is contained in a manual issued by the U.S. Department of Justice. The manual advises that there are no hard-and-fast rules as to whether volunteer fire departments are "public entities" and that the determination must be made on a case-by-case review of the following factors: 1)whether the department receives state or local tax monies, 2)whether the department`s employees are considered government employees, 3)whether the department receives significant amounts of property or equipment from the government, and 4)whether the department`s management (i.e., board of directors and chief officers) is elected by the public or appointed by government officials (as opposed to being selected by the department`s membership). .....No single factor is determinative. Whether a specific department is or is not covered will depend on an overall analysis of the factors listed above. n

CoastWatch Aug 29, 2019 10:23 AM
Painted Cave Fire Department Ordered to Turn Over Financial Records

Buckley will, at the least, have to relinquish is White Chief's Helmet and remove himself from the little volunteer "department"... If they are going to respond as a department to large incidents and charge for manpower and equipment, then they have no choice but to open the books.

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