Fire chief loses department money after leaving it in unlocked car

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — One chief in Overton County’s Volunteer Fire Department left $570 of the department’s money in an unlocked car.

Guess how this story ends.

Someone took the money, according to a recently released audit from Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson.

Fire Chief Charles Neal told Tennessee Watchdog this week he was waiting to deposit the money in a bank and that he filed a police report immediately after it was stolen.

Overton County Executive Ben Danner says his community is one in which people still trust each other enough to leave their houses unlocked and their car keys in the ignition.

TAKEN: The Rickman County Volunteer Fire Department

“I myself wouldn’t do what the fire chief did, but we live in a small community,” Danner said.

“I deer hunt, and I leave deer rifles in my truck, and I don’t even lock the door.”

Neal, the audit says, was also loaning $1,250 in taxpayer money, supposedly for the fire department, to department volunteers as personal loans.

Neal issued no receipts, and while he says the money was paid back there is no documentation to back any of it up.

Neal told Tennessee Watchdog he never considered how this might look on an audit or how others might perceive it.

“We trust each other with our lives. I didn’t think it serious enough to need receipts, so I didn’t issue them,” Neal said.

A new audit says the Overton County Volunteer Fire Department was giving out personal loans.

“I hope the community still believes in me. We’ve really done nothing wrong. It’s just the way it all looks on paper.”

Since 2009, the Overton County government has made an annual contribution of $96,000 to the local Fire Chiefs Association of Overton County, which in turn distributes the money equally to the 12 volunteer fire departments within the county, according to the audit.

The Rickman Volunteer Fire Department, where the problems were reported to have occurred, receives contributions from the FCAOC, federal grants, donations from residents, collections from various fund-raising events and insurance payments for certain emergency calls, the audit added.

County officials have scheduled a meeting Dec. 4 to discuss the matter, Danner said.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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