BLACK FOREST, Colo. - The big question raised Wednesday at the Black Forest Fire Board meeting was the cost of its independent investigation and public relations firm.
The board hired the investigator in response to El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa's accusations made to KRDO about Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey's handling of the initial hours of the Black Forest Fire.
Earlier this year, the fire board said the cost of its independent investigation was $50,000. However, Black Forest Fire Board member Rick McMorran questioned that number at Wednesday's meeting and said he thought the number was much higher.
When asked by the public about the final costs of the investigation, Fire Board Chairman Ed Bracken said the final invoices were not in yet.
Board secretary Donna Arkowski said the total cost is hard to determine because the information is buried in 10-page bills from the board's lawyers.
The Fire board said its lawyers hired the investigator and public relations firm. In turn, the board pays the lawyers and the lawyers pay the investigator and public relations firm.
As of February, the Fire Board has paid $114,000 in legal fees. It said half of that amount has gone to the investigator and public relations firm. The other half of that amount has gone toward preparing for the upcoming election, open records requests from the media and miscellaneous legal fees.
Arkowski estimated the election would cost $12,000. In a release from the Black Forest Fire Board earlier this year, it said records requests had costed $3,000. The estimated costs of election preparation and records requests total $15,000, leaving $42,000 to be explained.
"I am frustrated. I'm frustrated with the public not getting clear answers. I'm frustrated with decisions being made by our board chairman without talking to the rest of the board. I'm frustrated when the public asks how much they've been billed and they are told it's privileged information when it is not. It's the public's money and they have a right to know," said McMorran.
Chairman Ed Bracken said during the meeting that the board had to hire the investigator and public relations firm to defend the fire department. He declined an interview after the meeting.
Board Member Preston Cooper said he did not like to see such high costs for the investigation, but it was necessary.
The board budgeted $25,000 for legal fees for 2014. It will be looking at ways to cover these costs at the next meeting.