BLACK FOREST, Colo. - The Black Forest Fire Board says it spent a substantial portion of $117,000 on an outside investigation, public relations and attorneys after El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa raised questions about Chief Bob Harvey's response during the Black Forest Fire.
A Target 13 investigation into those questions prompted the board to take action.
The board says it spent $50,000 on an independent investigator and public relations firm and a substantial portion of $47,000 in legal fees on the investigator and Colorado Open Records requests.
Documents released by the board also say that copies of the final report cost an additional $2,000.
The board now says it has paid $16,000 to a law firm for Colorado Open Records Act requests filed by the media. In a release last month, the board said it had spent $3,000 on 10 record requests.
David McDivitt with McDivitt Law Firm weighed in on the legal fees. He said while they are high, they are not unreasonable.
"It's a big number to the two of us, it's a big number to most people in the community. But it's not unreasonable when you think about man hours that go into responding to requests," said McDivitt. When entities go into this and hire a law firm, they know they are going to be incurring a possibly significant cost."
McDivitt said he'd need more information to analyze the money spent on Colorado Open Records Act Requests. He said a lot of that money was most likely spent analyzing what information needed to be disclosed under Colorado law and what information could be withheld.
Board Member Walt Seeyle said by phone Tuesday that he did not expect costs to be this high. He said he's looked over the budget twice to see what can be cut to cover this tab but he hasn't found anything. He said the board runs a lean budget without a lot of extra money to spare. He will be discussing the topic soon with other board members.
Board Member Rick McMorran said by email Tuesday he was "horribly disappointed" and "shocked" by the numbers.
"The costs of this investigation appear to be rapidly approaching $100,000.00 and will likely surpass that as the remaining bills come in," said McMorran. "The Fire Department budget will undoubtedly take some major hits at a loss to the community in an attempt to cover these spiraling costs."
KRDO NewsChannel 13 requested interviews with board members Preston Cooper and Bill Marchant as well as board chairmen Ed Bracken but they did not answer the requests.
The board says the final invoice for the investigator and public relations firm are not in yet.