State Watchdog Opens Inquiry Into Fire Authority Disclosure Practices

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The state’s political watchdog Monday announced “a review” of Orange County Fire Authority practices in disclosing potential conflicts of interest after a Voice of OC article detailed questionable filings of economic disclosure forms by a high-ranking official.

The inquiry by the Fair Political Practices Commission [FPPC] will seek to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to open a formal investigation, according to an FPPC official in Sacramento.

The FPPC’s “enforcement division is taking it under review,” said Jay Wierenga, the agency’s spokesman.

Fire Authority spokesman Mike Petro wrote this response in an email when contacted by a reporter about the FPPC’s inquiry:

At this time OCFA has no indication that any “reviews” are being undertaken. OCFA believes in transparency and, if we are contacted, we will fully cooperate with any state or local agency that requests information from us.

The Voice of OC article published Monday describes how a Fire Authority division chief initially did not disclose previous work for an Oregon consulting firm that was paid $162,000 to produce a report on the agency’s emergency response coverage plan.

In 2010 and 2011, records show Emergency Services Consulting International [ESCI] engaged Brian J. Brice, now the south county division chief, as the lead consultant for a $10,000 contract for a fire agency in Colorado. He served as the Fire Authority’s point man on several ESCI projects, records say.

Yet in a statement of economic interest for 2011 that Brice filed in January 2012, Brice declared — under threat of perjury — that he had nothing to report.

As early as November 2012, emails show Brice’s superior told him he must report outside income from ESCI on the state-required statement of economic interest, known as a Form 700.

Brice responded in an email then that he would follow up. But no Fire Authority executives apparently pushed hard or inquired thereafter, because Brice didn’t report any ESCI income for 15 months.

Then last February, when ESCI’s recent contract for the Fire Authority caused controversy, Brice filed an amended economic interest statement for 2011 stating he had received from $500 to $1,000 in “salary” from ESCI.

ESCI had proposed in February that the Fire Authority significantly alter how emergency medical services are provided by paramedics in the field during peak-need hours.

That plan was pushed by now-retiring Fire Authority Fire Chief Keith Richter — who has served on for-profit ESCI’s advisory board, and is active in its non-profit parent, the International Association of Fire Chiefs of Virginia.

Richter has declared his membership in the International Association on his economic interest forms in recent years.

The ESCI and Richter concept of using squad trucks with paramedics apparently now is stalled if not dead, as the Fire Authority’s board moves to find a new fire chief to fill the coming vacancy at the end of August.

Rex Dalton is a San Diego-based journalist who has worked for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the journal Nature. You can reach him directly at rexdalton@aol.com.

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