Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 4, 2013

Fire board under investigation

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — West Virginia State troopers wheeled out boxes of records Wednesday from the Mercer County Fire Board after the state auditor’s office issued a warrant for them.

The warrant stems from an irregularity noted by a state auditor, Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash said.

“We are getting some records gathered up,” Ash said. “We are going to conduct an investigation to see if there is any wrongdoing or if it’s just bad record keeping.”

Ash said the information would be provided to the state police and state auditors who will investigate and report back if there is any criminal wrongdoing.

“It’s a public concern,” Ash said. “We don’t know if there is criminal wrongdoing or not; that’s why we do the investigation before prosecution.”

Troopers and county officials spent much of the morning gathering the requested materials.

George Sitler, chief assistant prosecuting attorney, said as he walked from the fire board’s office, “The state auditor has requested some records from the fire board, so we helped them secure the records.”

The fire board office is located in the Mercer County Courthouse.

 While helping to load boxes of records onto a cart, Fire Chief Nelson Short of the East River Volunteer Fire Department mooned members of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph who were at the scene. Short is a former manager of the fire board.

The current manager is Kathy Short, his wife.

The duty of the fire board is to collect fire fees and distribute the money to volunteer fire departments, according to County Coordinator Vicky Reed.

The seven members of the board are volunteers who are appointed by the Mercer County Commission. The office has two paid employees hired by the fire board.

Phillip Ball, a member of the board and the fire board’s attorney, declined comment this morning regarding the investigation. He had instructed other members of the board and its employees not to make any additional comments.

Members of the board include Buckner, Ball, Mike Proffitt, Gerald Steele and Calvin Shoemaker.

Funds collected from county fire fees are distributed among 12 fire departments, Buckner said. He did not recall how much money the fire board collects annually.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com