W. Alex discusses unauthorized purchases

UPDATE: We’ve uploaded the full audio to the town hall meeting in the video below. Discussion on the unauthorized purchases begins around the 10 minute mark:

WEST ALEXANDRIA — West Alexandria Village Council held a town hall meeting to discuss unauthorized activity by Jeff Shafer, the town’s fire chief, along with the fire association on Monday, Feb. 3.

Chris Day, village administrator, wanted to bring attention to the fact that the fire association had attempted to get a new fire truck insured in the village’s name.

The issue was that the association purchased the truck for just over $47,000 with the fire association’s money and did not get permission from council before trying to place it on the town’s insurance policy.

“Normally, that type of purchase would go through (council). If it were high enough, which it’s pretty close to the borderline limit, it would have had to be under a state bid or would have been put out for bid,” said Richard Faber, the town’s solicitor.

The village only received word of the purchase once they got notification by the insurance company.

Day noted that the association does not have the authority to go to the insurance company and get a vehicle insured in the village’s name. The title is also not in the village’s name.

“We should have been on the front end of this and we could have worked this out,” he said.

Shafer was not present at the meeting.

Day stated he thought the mayor, Carol Lunsford, was going to call the fire chief to inform him about the town hall discussions but Lunsford admitted she never made the call because of a fire department training Shafer was attending.

Other council members said they were told Shafer was aware of the meeting, but it was never made clear if he knew about the items being discussed.

“I think there is a lack of communication all around. He’s not here to answer these questions; he wasn’t given the opportunity apparently,” said council member Holly Robbins.

Council then discussed another unauthorized purchase, which was made by Shafer. In April, the fire department was struck by lightning, causing the need for generator repairs.

It was stated by Faber, the existing generator could have been repaired for $2,170.54 but Shafter authorized a company to install a brand new one at the cost of $8,075.

There was a timeline that Faber also presented, showing the damage occurred on April 13. On April 16, it is believed Shafer received an estimate for the new generator and on April 24, it was installed.

The village was sent the bill in early May followed by the insurance claim, for $2,170.54.

The estimate given by the company that had serviced the department’s generators in the past used the word “replacement” instead of “repair” in the claim given to the insurance company.

Council passed a resolution where the village would pay 3-Way Electric Inc., the company who installed the new generator, $8,075, using $5,904.59 from the Fire and EMS budget while also using the insurance claim to pay the remaining $2,170.54.

Faber noted, Shafer “feels he was taken advantage of” because of the emergency of the situation he was put in.

The last major item discussed was another bill, this one from a law firm, sent to the village for a lawyer’s time when she attended a meeting a few months prior. The visit from the lawyer was not authorized by anyone on council, or the mayor, and it was unclear at the meeting who authorized her visit.

Day had yet to reach out to the lawyer as he had only recently received the bill.

“Authority is being exercised outside of this body and it shouldn’t be exercised. It needs to stop,” said Faber. “That’s another discussion when you can get the fire chief here.”

No definitive actions, beside the generator payment, were made during the meeting. The discussion was to continue during the village’s council meeting on Monday, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m. All West Alexandria meetings take place at the water plant.

By Jeremy Erskine

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Reach Jeremy at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @jerskine_RH.