Update: Click here to read about the audit.

The Orange County Fire Authority’s crisis communications firm just sent out an eleventh-hour notice for a media briefing on the long-awaited audit of the agency’s operations.

The $100,000 audit by Costa Mesa-based Management Partners, which was originally slated to be released no later than March 24, contains material so sensitive that Fire Authority attorneys have been reviewing it in secret for nearly two months.

Representatives with Communications LAB, the public relations firm that sent out today’s notice, said the audit will be released today at 5 p.m.; and the Fire Authority’s 25-member board is scheduled to discuss it at its regular meeting on May 22.

While the audit has remained under wraps, Fire Chief Keith Richter’s job performance has been the subject of several closed sessions in recent weeks held by either the full board or its executive committee.

Meanwhile, there has been rampant speculation in the community that Richter’s days are numbered at the Fire Authority.

The release of the audit was not supposed to be handled in this manner. At the board’s January meeting, the head of the Management Partners audit team said the board would be updated with interim reports throughout the process.

At that meeting board members, notably Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, urged the firm to issue the interim reports so there wouldn’t be any surprises when the final audit was completed.

However, other than a copy of a survey of Fire Authority employees, such interim reports weren’t made, according to documents and interviews.

The agency was involved in so many complex issues in recent months that The Management Partners review updates got lost, said David Shawver, Stanton’s mayor who sits on the Fire Authority board and its executive committee.

“There were never any updates; that never happened,” said Shawver. “The executive committee dropped the ball, and Fire Authority upper management and Management Partners never made it happen.”

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