When the State of Delaware Office of Auditor of Accounts (AOA) released their inspection report of the Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s (MVFC) financials this week, the oft-whispered-about had become a horrific black-and-white reality.
A former treasurer of the MVFC was accused of embezzling more than $190,000 from the fire company, and the MVFC itself was taken to task for what the AOA felt was a lack of financial controls, allowing the alleged theft to take place for an extended period of time.
We had heard the rumors, as well, for several months. We had made calls, talked to people from the MVFC and other local entities and people “in-the-know,” and the general consensus was that something was indeed amiss with the finances of the MVFC, someone had been suspended for this alleged activity and the MVFC was in the process of tightening up the methods in which they handled their finances.
But we had also heard there was a state investigation taking place, and that there was nothing solid to go forward with until a detailed audit and report had been completed. As journalists, we were frustrated. It is our very nature to expose instances of financial misdeeds, particularly when public monies are in play. But we also take our reputation in this community for being fair and accurate equally as seriously, and chose to wait until the actual facts were exposed, as opposed to a hasty rush to judgement based on innuendo and half-statements.
At the end, we chose accuracy and fairness over hastily printing gossip and things we “felt” were true. In this new-age era of “insta-news” and immediate gratification, that was not an easy decision to make. But we’d make that same choice again if presented the same circumstances, even if it meant “getting scooped” by another news outlet or blog.
As you read the stories concerning this alleged embezzlement, you are probably asking yourself, “How did this happen for so long? How did nobody notice this missing money? That’s ridiculous.”
Well, on that front, let me put something out there for you to consider.
I have served on many boards in this area and others across these fruited plains, as I’m sure many of you have, judging by the outstanding charitable work done in this community. At some point in these meetings, the treasurer reads the amount of money in the accounts, everybody nods their head and smiles if things sound good, and activity moves on to the next point of order.
And that’s it.
Could the MVFC have been more stringent in their policies and the way their money was handled? Absolutely. There’s no arguing that point, and the MVFC itself has set about completely changing the way they do things on that front. From our earliest conversations with their officers, they have said that things have just been done the way they’ve always been done and that they needed to do a better job with it in the future.
Isn’t that what we want at the end of the day? For people to admit when they did something wrong and to try to correct the behavior in question?
The MVFC is actively taking steps to improve the way their money is being handled and to restore the faith this community has in them when they support the fire company.
The AOA inspection report said that when they began this investigation, the MVFC had 169 volunteer firefighters, nine paid EMTs and 54 ladies auxiliary members.
And there was one person to have allegedly taken money.
That’s one person out of 232 people actively involved in the MVFC at the time of these transgressions. That is not a “pattern of behavior” or an institution run amok. That is one individual who allegedly took advantage of a somewhat-lax environment for his or her own good.
And, while we’re talking about it, let’s not forget what those 200-plus people do for the rest of us. They run into buildings, on purpose, that the rest of us would be running away from with every bit of strength we could muster in our legs. They respond to grizzly accident scenes where they encounter people they know. People they might love. They get called in the middle of the night to get out of their warm beds and leave their families so they could put their own bodies, lives and general mental health at risk to help a stranger. They go to our schools and talk about the importance of fire safety, and they let kids sound the sirens on their trucks.
And that’s awesome.
So, yeah, I’m still a huge fan of the men and women at the Millville Volunteer Fire Company, and I maintain my faith in what they do. I hope many of you do, too.