Originally created 08/11/00

Mayor is unsettled by debts



Mayor Bob Young has asked the acting Augusta fire chiefs to speed up the investigation into why the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs Conference's finances ended up in the red.

In a Thursday memo to Deputy Chiefs Carl Scott and Mike Rogers, Mr. Young said he was "deeply disturbed" by the publicity concerning the finances of the fire chiefs' conference.

"While this event was not a function of city government, the negative publicity and impending grand jury investigation is casting a dark cloud over our fire department," Mr. Young stated in the memo.

Mr. Young said he was particularly disturbed by a report that money from the convention bank account was diverted into a city account.

Bank records of the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs account opened by Augusta fire officials show a $4,000 check was written to the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department Media Awards account in April.

Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Danny Craig acknowledged Thursday that the Richmond County special grand jury is investigating the media awards bank records.

The fire chiefs conference was held in Augusta from May 30 through June 4. About $23,000 in unpaid bills are still outstanding, although the association stepped in to pay a $3,000 overdue hotel bill last week to avoid publicity, the president of the organization said.

Former Fire Chief Ronnie Few and Public Information Officer Katrice Bryant were instrumental in organizing the event. Chief Few is now heading the Washington Fire Department and has not returned repeated phone messages seeking comment.

Deputy Chiefs Scott and Rogers said they are at a disadvantage in piecing together conference finances because they were not involved in them. Chief Scott said he was responsible for security, and Chief Rogers said he was responsible for the golf tournament.

"I can tell you anything you want to know about the golf tournament," Chief Rogers said.

The person whose signature is on the $4,000 check, firefighter Octavius Davis, has been on military leave but is expected back today. Mr. Davis should be able to answer some important questions, the chiefs said.

Meanwhile, Chief Scott has been trying to raise money to pay off the debts by selling leather-bound portfolios with the fire department insignia and shirts, for which a hefty bill is still owed.

Mr. Young initially asked the deputy chiefs to provide him with a full financial statement for the chiefs conference by 5 p.m. today, but amended that to Monday at Chief Scott's request, he said.

Mr. Young has asked for:

Information about any unpaid bills

Uncollected fees from conference attendees, vendors or sponsors

An accounting of any money that was diverted into a city of Augusta account, the reason the money was diverted and the subsequent disbursement of the money

City Administrator Randy Oliver, however, said the city did not sponsor the conference and the debts are not the city's issue.

"Randy's right," Mr. Young said. "Technically, it's not our issue because it was not our conference, and it was not our money. But it reflects on the image and the integrity and the credibility of our employees, so in that respect it is our issue."

The Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs is a professional organization of fire chiefs with members from 10 Southeastern states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department's annual Media Phoenix Awards honors local media members for coverage of fire-related issues.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.