By Sarah Naron
ELKHART – Elkhart Mayor Mike Gordon recently spoke out regarding accusations made on social media by Elkhart Volunteer Fire Department Chief Randy McCoy that the City of Elkhart has been harassing the EVFD after a letter was sent to the department from the city’s attorney requesting payment for a lock.
The lock was removed in late October by the EVFD when the department vacated the building in which it had existed since 1970 under an agreement between the two entities.
“I don’t read social media. I just hear what they write, and that’s totally false,” Gordon said. “And why they do that, I do not know. To get people stirred up.
“When I heard about it and was told about what was said, I just – (thought), ‘I don’t believe this,’” he went on. “I’m here to tell you the truth.”
Mayor Gordon explained that a meeting took place between himself, the mayor pro-tem, the city secretary and Chief McCoy around the time the department moved out of its former location.
“We all went to the city annex to turn over all the titles for the vehicles,” he explained. “Once we signed all this stuff over, we started asking about the building, and the lock was brought up. The attorney sat there and told the fire chief that was a fixed asset – it’s part of the building; it cannot be removed. And he did it, anyway.”
Upon discovering that the lock had been removed, the city proceeded to have its attorney, Blake E. Armstrong of Birdsong & Armstrong in Tyler, send the letter requesting that the EVFD “compensate the City for its damages in replacing this item in the amount of $760.”
“And it may be just trivial, but it’s a point to it that, you know, how this is spun all around and like the city’s the bad guy,” Gordon said. “And that’s not the case. He can say what he wants. But that’s not what happened. We have nothing to hide.”
According to Gordon, the decision by the city to discontinue its funding of the EVFD was spurred by a lack of resources with which to do so.
“We decided that it was in the best interest of the city that we completely separate. We cannot afford to finance them, too,” he said. “And they’re a 501-c3; they’re a volunteer organization. And they never had fundraisers or anything. They’re having them now, but they never had them, because we were financing them.
“We’re a poor city,” he added. “We don’t have the money to finance them.”
Elkhart City Council member Chris Sheridan also expressed a number of concerns regarding the city’s relationship with the EVFD. Among them was his belief that funding for the EVFD should have come from somewhere other than the city all along.
Sheridan pointed out that the EVFD serves a coverage area totaling approximately 100 square miles throughout the southern part of Anderson County. The city of Elkhart occupies roughly one mile, accounting for a meager percentage of the EVFD’s service area.
“I feel like most of the funding should come from the county,” said Sheridan.
Sheridan explained that an account was set up by the city on behalf of the fire department and a budget of approximately $10,000 per year was developed.
“Our auditor had never seen that,” Sheridan said “They’re a non-profit organization, and we had no internal controls. Essentially, the city was operating an account for them. You hardly ever see that.”
According to Sheridan, past and present auditors for the city have expressed concerns over the relationship, namely the shared custody of vehicles by the city and the EVFD.
Sheridan acknowledged that there are cities – such as Bryan-College Station – who do successfully contribute to their volunteer fire department and other nonprofit organizations, but pointed out that these cities have a very detailed policy for oversight.
“Being a small city, there’s not enough oversight,” Sheridan stated. “My opinion is that the city had no business being tied to a nonprofit to the degree that it was. I understand that it happens over decades – things get muddied up, it gets the way it gets,” he went on. “But it wasn’t beneficial to the city.”
Sarah Naron may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.