The Idyllwild Fire Protection District (IFPD) commission adopted its response to the June grand jury report on the fire district and President Pete Capparelli signed the letter the same evening.
Three commissioners —Capparelli, Vice President Paul Riggi and Treasurer Ben Killingsworth — unanimously agreed to the language in their response to the grand jury at a special meeting, Wednesday, Sept. 7. Commissioners Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly and Jeannine Charles-Stigall were absent.
The commission adamantly stood by its position that further research or analysis of alternatives for providing local fire or emergency medical service would be a waste of resources. The commission firmly argues that there are no alternatives that would be less costly than the current district, whose annual budget is about $1.7 million.
“As stewards of the taxpayers money, it would be irresponsible of IFPD to pay an analytical firm to tell us whether a volunteer fire department would cost less than a paid fire department, therefore we reject the suggestion,” the district wrote in its reply to the grand jury.
“The obvious question is — what more does the public need to know in order to decide whether or not it would be in our community’s best interest to disband IFPD and hire RCFD (CAL FIRE) to take over our fire district? The answer is simple; IFPD offers more service for less money,” they continued. “Spending taxpayer dollars on a redundant study to the 2008 grand jury follow-up meeting would be a waste of valuable funds. The public has access to IFPD’s budget as well as RCFD’s budget on line and can make these comparisons independently.”
The response to the grand jury finding and recommendation regarding the potential conflict of Schelly serving as commissioner while a current paid-call firefighter is still open. IFPD has asked both the state Attorney General’s office and the Riverside County District Attorney’s office to proffer opinions on the situation.
As of the meeting, neither had responded to Capparelli. The commission did not take a specific position, although the views of some individual commissioners are well-known. Schelly’s position and response to the commission and grand jury were published in last week’s paper.
In response to the comments about the district’s financial bookkeeping systems, the commission acknowledged the past problems but said they have been corrected since the former bookkeeping service was terminated.
“The main reason for these problems is the inadequate work done by our former bookkeeping service,” was IFPD’s defense.
However, Craig and Janice Coopersmith, owners of The Family Business, IFPD’s former bookkeepers, prepared their own response to the grand jury and took exception to the commission laying blame with them.
They explained their role and the history of performance without complaint until the final year of service, which ended May 2010. They stated that checking account details and reconciliations were available in advance of every meeting, among several other financial steps such as performing double-entry accounting.
“We were saddened that our decade-plus-long relationship with IFPD came to the conclusion which it did, but we will not sit by and allow certain commissioners to make untrue and inaccurate statements about our services in order to hide their shortcomings,” Craig said to the grand jury.
Regarding the Brown Act, the commission stated, “There is no disputing the fact that training regarding the provisions of the Brown Act has been lacking.”
But the commission has had two training sessions in the past two years and Killingsworth offered to send his colleagues a section of the Brown Act monthly and follow up with study questions later.