STRASBURG — After being called out for a possible conflict of interest by constituents, the President of the Board of Directors for the Strasburg Fire Protection District doubled down at a recent board meeting and refused to stop directing the maintenance work of fire equipment to his own business.
Don Sherer, who owns Sherer Auto Parts in Bennett, bid for the work in December 2018 at a rate of $125 per hour labor and parts at 40 percent over cost, despite the fact that Bennett Fire Protection District had a signed contract with Strasburg for the same services through its fleet maintenance program for $80 per hour labor and 20 percent over cost.
Brad Jones, a volunteer firefighter for the district and spokesman for the group “Friends of Strasburg Fire,” said the practice has numerous issues that creates a problem for the district.
First, Jones said, is a lack of skills to manage the work.
“For a few months, apparatus went to Bennett and many items that had been unresolved for months or years started to get fixed,” Jones said. “Bennett Fire had previously bid on this work in years past with a professional proposal and contract that outlines their ability to knowledgeably service fire apparatus to industry standards. Sherer is woefully unqualified to work on this.”
Sherer has said in the past that his ability to service school busses makes him qualified to service fire equipment. Jones disagrees, pointing to the fact that Sherer has no trained emergency vehicle technicians in his employ and charges the district $45 more than Bennett.
“Due to their unique nature, industry groups have developed detailed standards for the maintenance of apparatus and the personnel who perform that work,” Jones said in a previous letter to the board. “While agency compliance with the National Fire Protection Association standards if voluntary, the district’s staff and public deserve apparatus that are maintained to the highest possible standard given the available budget and resources.”
Bennett has a fleet maintenance service and contracts with many other fire districts in the area.
Friends of Strasburg Fire, which is made up of district residents, formed in May with the message that they are “concerned for the safe, ethical and fiscally responsible provision of emergency service.” Jones said he has raised this issue for months, but no one will respond to his inquiries.
Neither Sherer nor the fire district’s attorney returned requests for comment from Complete Colorado, however, at a recent meeting Sherer told a group of residents that he was the only bidder for a contract, and that the contract in place with Bennett Fire was signed by the Strasburg treasurer without authorization of the full board.
There has been no public discussion to date that the contract was invalid or that the treasurer acted alone in the authorization. Likewise, there has been no public censure or discussion admonishing the act.
“For years, the board president has used his position to illegally and unethically steer business to his auto repair shop,” Jones told the board. “The result is a real safety risk to the public and district staff.”
Jones added that by continuing the practice, Sherer is undermining the public’s trust. State law make it clear that board members of special districts should only do business with their districts under very conditional terms.
Other issues cited by Friends of Strasburg Fire include inconsistent billing practices and compliance with state conflict of interest disclosure laws.
“In one case, the district paid a $12,000 invoice which featured only a single line item and not parts or labor subtotals,” Jones said. “These facts paint a picture of a complete failure of a public fiscal accountability.”
Jones said the problems have been raised for years, and others before him have lost their jobs for questioning the practice. At Thursday’s meeting, the board was originally planning to adjourn for an executive meeting to discuss a “personnel” issue. However, that item was taken off the agenda at the meeting. Jones had requested earlier in the day that if the board planned to discuss him, that they do it in public, a right allowed personnel under Sunshine law..
Prior to the meeting, Complete Colorado sent inquiries to Sherer and the fire district’s attorney about concerns over noncompliance with proper noticing of the executive session under Colorado Sunshine laws. Although they did not respond prior to the meeting, they did fix the failures in their notice at the meeting, which included a more thorough and detailed explanation for the executive session..
Sherer’s compliance with state disclosure laws concerning possible conflicts of interest also falls short, Jones said, and minutes from the Dec. 13 fire board meeting, at which Sherer submitted his bid, confirm were no potential conflicts of interest noted. A Dec. 8 filing with the Secretary of State’s office only disclose a land issue that may cause problems for some board members.
Jones said because Sherer and the rest of the board refuse to stop sending work to Sherer’s business, he is now going ask that bids be reopened in the interest of the district.
“We’ll put aside the questions of the current status quo,” Jones said. “But we demand that this be rebid immediately.”
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