Fire department structure is not unusual — or suspicious

A metropolitan consulting firm encourages public suspicion of the Putney Fire Department and the Putney Volunteer Firefighters Association. Our firefighters deserve better.

Howard Fairman, a native Vermonter, likes to study official public documents and presentations, research their backgrounds and implications, document what's really happening, then share food for thought with fellow grassroots Vermonters.

PUTNEY-What happens when consultants from afar "with decades of experience in large, urban settings," as they claim on their website, offer their professional advice to rural Vermont towns?

Putney is an example.

Based in Sheridan, Wyoming, AP Triton advised the town in its Fire Department Operations Analysis: "It is highly unusual for an independent non-profit to collect and spend money related to municipal operations, especially without the knowledge or authorization of the municipality."

Not so in Vermont, where most towns knowingly have both fire departments and firefighters associations.

The Putney Volunteer Firefighters Association is a domestic nonprofit corporation duly registered with the Corporations Division of the Vermont Secretary of State's office.

It is also a tax-exempt, tax-deductible public charity duly authorized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to solicit and receive donations to benefit the Putney Fire Department, not the town of Putney, where such funds would necessarily and improperly be deposited to the General Fund for general expenses.

The Putney Volunteer Firefighters Association, therefore, is legally independent and not subject or accountable to the town of Putney, exists openly in the community and on Facebook, and requests the Putney Selectboard's permission to organize "boot drop" fundraisers on main roads.

Among AP Triton's recommendations: "This report only focuses on the Fire Department, but a forensic financial audit should be conducted townwide. This will determine whether or not appropriate fiscal management is occurring in all of the Town's departments."

Such an audit is defined by the Corporate Finance Institute as "an examination of a company's financial records to derive evidence which can be used in a court of law or legal proceeding."

As per Vermont law, the town's finances already are annually audited uneventfully by independent auditors licensed by the state - which AP Triton is not.

* * *

No one has alleged any evidence against the Putney Volunteer Firefighters Association or its members which can be used in a court of law or legal proceeding. Instead, public suspicion of the organization and its members has been encouraged, supposedly to be allayed by "open your books." Nor has anyone alleged any such evidence against the town of Putney.

During the May 15 Selectboard meeting, the treasurer of the Putney Volunteer Firefighters Association publicly stated - and the Putney town manager publicly confirmed - that the treasurer already had voluntarily provided to the town comprehensive information about current and past charitable donations properly received and disbursed by the association as per its IRS authorization as a public charity.

I therefore publicly challenge questioners of the Putney Volunteer Firefighters Association's finances or the town of Putney's finances to produce - publicly - evidence that can be used in a court of law or legal proceeding and that could justify a forensic audit.

Putney Fire Department EMTs and firefighters, like their rural Vermont colleagues statewide, have volunteered to save lives, property, and environments in Putney and neighboring towns at any time of day or night. They complete demanding training and possibly face personal danger.

They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude for being there for everyone.

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

This piece, published in print in the Voices section or as a column in the news sections, represents the opinion of the writer. In the newspaper and on this website, we strive to ensure that opinions are based on fair expression of established fact. In the spirit of transparency and accountability, The Commons is reviewing and developing more precise policies about editing of opinions and our role and our responsibility and standards in fact-checking our own work and the contributions to the newspaper. In the meantime, we heartily encourage civil and productive responses at [email protected].

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates