AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – An Augusta Firefighter’s union says Fire Chief Christopher James misused taxpayer money.
Last week, the Augusta Professional Firefighter’s Association sent a letter to the City of Augusta Administrator and Serving Commissioners. That letter lays out how they say Augusta Fire Chief Christopher James used the money to buy new fire trucks without the proper approval.
WJBF News Channel 6’s Stefany Bornman sat down with the President of the Augusta Professional Firefighters Association, Charles Masters on Tuesday. Fire Chief James’s last day with the City of Augusta is March 18th, so why bring this up when he’s on his way out?
The Association’s President says it took six months and cost nearly $10,000 dollars to be legally prepared to release the findings of the investigation and he says the timing of the release, with Fire Chief James leaving for a new job in a month, is simply a coincidence.
Charles Masters says his group’s investigation found that the City of Augusta signed a $13 million dollar contract to get new fire trucks from Kovatch Mobile Equipment Corporation, a fire truck manufacture.
WJBF News Channel 6 first told you in June of 2015 about problems with the trucks. Those problems included air conditioning leaks, suspension issues and radio problems.
The Firefighters Association says a committee of 8 people was put into place before the purchase was made. That group was supposed to meet with fire truck manufacturers and recommend to Fire Chief James and Assistant Fire Chief Sterling Jones about which fire truck specifications were best for the City of Augusta.
“So they recommended a fire truck and then they [the committee] went back and they worked another 3 months on drawing up the specifications for that fire truck they recommended,” said Masters.
The committee recommended Seagraves, another manufacture, because of the fire truck design. Instead the City of Augusta signed that deal with K.M.E. based on Fire Chief James’ recommendation. Masters says the committee did not recommend K.M.E. because its products were never tested, and he says Fire Chief James was told that in the committee’s report.
“They put that in there where we wouldn’t end up with K.M.E. because they were building a fire truck that was not tested and low and behold we end up with that same fire truck,” Masters told WJBF News Channel 6.
The Firefighters Association says six companies had a chance to make a bid, but five ended up dropping out. Masters says that’s because word got out that the Fire Chief and Associate Fire Chief were secretly meeting with K.M.E.
“Somebody from the administration had called and said Chief James and Chief Jones are meeting with K.M.E up here in the conference room and shut all the blinds and the doors,” said Masters.
In a statement Fire Chief James says “there were no closed-door meetings with vendors. Furthermore, no department in the City of Augusta Government can submit for a particular vendor due to a bidding process.”
Masters says that because K.M.E.’s fire trucks were prototypes, so the company sold them cheap. Which he says made the Fire Chief look like a good steward of taxpayer money, but now he says the purchase of the faulty fire trucks against the committee’s recommendation is putting lives at risk.
“That what we recommended was the best product that would protect the men and women and protect this city,” Masters said.
Had the right equipment been purchased, Masters says there would not need for the City of Augusta to cancel the K.M.E. contract. Masters says he fears the cost to maintain the trucks will be more than what it would have cost to buy the right equipment to begin with.
We did reach out to Fire Chief James for an interview, he declined and sent a statement.