County asks District 12 fire commissioners to resign amid investigation
A fraud investigation report from the Washington State Auditor’s office revealed that nearly $200,000 in public funds may have been misappropriated by three Mason County employees with Fire District 12. The fire chief, her father — one of three District 12 fire commissioners — and her secretary were identified as alleged suspects in the investigation.
The report discovered this may had been occurring for approximately five years.
“They were very difficult to work with, and that, of course, is a red flag in and of itself,” state auditor Pat McCarthy said.
Mason County Commissioner Kevin Shutty believes all three fire commissioners representing the district should resign. The only ways a fire commissioner can be removed from the position are voter recall or resignation, as they are elected officials.
“There’s really no process for the county commission to remove other independently elected officials like fire district commissioners,” said Shutty. “However, they should do the right thing and resign.”
To retrieve the documents, the state auditor’s office had to request multiple court subpoenas, but McCarthy said sloppy record-keeping makes it hard to decipher where most of the money went.
“There were ten questionable payments totaling about $10,000,” McCarthy said. “Of that amount, $5,700 was for maintenance services, but the payments for maintenance services were not adequately supported to determine if the work was actually performed [including] the dates when the work was completed and how the compensation was calculated.”
Shutty believes the investigation was prompted by people living within the district.
“They weren’t seeing their fire commission meet under the open public meetings act. I think it was difficult for them to get responses to questions that they’re asking about insurance rates and other basic questions,” Shutty said. “[But] they were afraid that if they call 911, that they would get a different level of service than other people that weren’t pursuing accountability and transparency at the fire district.”
According to Shutty, the misuse of funds may have an impact on the fire district’s ability to provide essential public safety and emergency response.
The auditor’s report was sent to the Mason County’s Sheriff’s office. If the sheriff’s office believes laws were broken, the case would go to the county prosecutor to decide charges.
“Sadly for the folks that live out in Matlock, this is probably the tip of the iceberg, and there’s probably a lot more to come in terms of outcomes from these investigations that are ongoing,” Shutty said.
KIRO Newsradio reached out to Mason County Fire District 12 for comment, but no one has responded to the request as of this reporting.
Diane Duthweiler contributed to this report