By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES – Auditors doing a special review found nearly $114,000 in questionable spending by leaders of the Bloomfield Volunteer Fire Department, and at least one secret bank account, according to a report by the Iowa Auditor’s office.
The audit names former Fire Chief Robert Hougland Jr. and former City Councilman Craig Scott, who volunteered at the fire department and served as its treasurer. Nearly $700 was spent to pay for car loans and DVDs. The audit says $5,000 in cash was withdrawn from bank accounts — at least once from an ATM in Las Vegas. Another $45 went to an adult bookstore, the audit showed.
Scott and Hougland, already paid by the city for their work, paid themselves another nearly $2,800, the audit said. Hougland’s annual salary increased from $5,000 a year to $7,500 in 2008, although no records were found showing the City Council approved such a raise, according to the report.
The state’s review in Bloomfield, which has a population of 2,600, spanned July 2006 to June 2010.
Much of the money – roughly $70,000 – went to pay volunteer firefighters, although they got cash payments, in some cases. In others, little or no documentation was found to record the payment. Some firefighters received multiple payments throughout the year, even though they were supposed to be paid annually, according to the auditor’s report.
“When I became mayor, there were some rumblings,” said Chris Miller, who took office in 2010. “There were a lot of things I was hearing about the possibility of other bank accounts the city didn’t know about and firefighters being paid in cash.”
Hougland was not available for comment. Scott died in 2011.
No charges have been filed in the case, according to online court documents. The state auditor’s office turned the report over to the Davis County attorney and the Iowa Attorney General’s office. Rick Lynch, Davis county attorney, did not return calls seeking comment. Miller said he was didn’t know whether Lynch planned to file charges.
The City Council, which oversees the fire department, hired an outside auditor to comb through the fire department’s finances after Miller took office. Their findings prompted the state review. It was the first time in recent memory the fire department was audited, Miller said.
Hougland retired from his position in 2010 after more than a decade, and the City Council appointed Scott interim director. He continued in his role as treasurer but resigned from the council, according to the report.
Before resigning, Scott received a paycheck for his work on the council and fire department, which is against Iowa law.
City officials haven’t sought to recoup any of the lost money, Miller said. But they have taken steps the past two years to strengthen safeguards to prevent a similar situation, he said.
Mainly, the city now oversees the department’s finances and budget. Officials previously wrote $150 checks to the department for every call it received. Hougland and Scott were then charged with dividing it and paying firefighters. They also had complete control over donations and fundraising money, according to the audit report.
“The city has already taken the steps it felt necessary to lock down the departments,” Miller said. “We feel confident that we have eliminated any gaping holes in the process, and going forward everything will be good.”