Orange County Fire Authority records were subpoenaed last week by state officials conducting an investigation into possible conflicts of interest involving the agency’s recently retired fire chief and another top officer, documents say.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission subpoena targets former Fire Chief Keith Richter and a division chief, Brian J. Brice, for associations with Emergency Services Consulting International [ESCI], a for-profit firm in Oregon that is a subsidiary of the nonprofit International Association of Fire Chiefs in Virginia.
The FPPC opened its investigation on Aug. 19, officials say, but on Jan. 8 the Fire Authority received the subpoena and a declaration about the probe of possible violations regarding gifts and/or failure to disclose income.
Richter retired last summer after a stormy year of criticism — including a management study showing a “lack of accountability” at all levels of the Fire Authority. Richter led the agency — Orange County’s largest, serving 23 cities — since 2009.
A Fire Authority spokesman said the agency is “evaluating the subpoena” but declining comment at this time, as the investigation is ongoing. The Fire Authority provided the subpoena to Voice of OC after a Public Records Act request Jan. 9.
Accompanying the subpoena is a declaration by FPPC special investigator Lee Myers that states he is investigating the “possible violation” of four sections of the state Political Reform Act. The sections include: conflicts of interest; disclosure of income on Statements of Economic Interests; and the acceptance of gifts by public officials.
Fire Authority records subpoenaed for the time period between January 2009, and Sept. 30, 2014 are listed as follows:
- Texts, emails, memos and reports on communications between the Fire Authority and its employee/officials with ESCI and the fire chiefs association.
- All such communications regarding ESCI and the fire chiefs association among Fire Authority employees/officials themselves.
- Fire Authority records of income, gifts and/or complimentary items and meals received by Richter and Brice from ESCI or the fire chiefs association — including but not limited to payroll documents, invoices, receipts, contracts, employee agreements and IRS W-2 forms.
- All documentation regarding services provided the Fire Authority by ESCI and the fire chiefs association — including by not limited to contracts, estimates, invoices, bid agreements, work orders and negotiation records.
These documents “will help assist in determining the amount of income that should have been reported on Richter’s and Brice’s statements of economic interests, and whether Richter and Brice had a conflict of interest in ESCI,” Myers wrote.
The FPPC spokesman declined further comment and wouldn’t release any additional documentation — because its probe is based on a news report not a citizen complaint, in which a legal protocol allows for a more timely release of certain documents.
In July, Voice of OC described in an article how records showed irregularities and/or potential violations of state disclosure requirements involving Richter, Brice and a $162,000 Fire Authority contract in 2012 with ESCI to develop a new rescue deployment system.
The article also detailed records showing that Brice worked as the lead ESCI consultant on a $10,000 contract in 2010 and 2011 for a Colorado fire protection district — but Brice didn’t list disclose any outside income for 2011 on his statement of economic interests form for the FPPC.
In February 2014, records show Brice filed an amended economic disclosure form reporting ESCI income for 2011 of $500 to $1,000. The amendment, filed immediately after the ESCI study was released, generated controversy and sharp union criticism about Brice’s consulting work with ESCI.
But records from the West Metro Fire Protection District near Denver indicated Brice did substantial work on the Colorado contract in 2011, including a trip there.
Additionally, records show Richter had served on ESCI’s advisory board and was on the fire chiefs association’s technical advisory committee. Also, in 2013, the association named Richter “fire chief of the year.”
And Brice was a lead Fire Authority strategy officer working with ESCI on the 2012 contract for the agency’s proposed new “standard of cover” plan — whereby squad trucks of paramedics would be deployed during peak hours for medical emergencies. That proposal last year became dead on arrival as Richter’s troubles mounted.
In 2012, as the Fire Authority was conducting its bidding process for the redeployment study, records show Brice also wrote a recommendation on behalf of Richter for ESCI to an Illinois fire district, which was considering engaging the Oregon firm for a consulting contract.
Subsequently, in July 2012, the Palatine Rural Fire Protection District in Inverness engaged ESCI for a $5,000 contract.
Palatine Rural officials said Brice never worked for the district or visited the agency. But Brice’s Fire Authority cell phone records show it was used during a two-day period last March near the Illinois district.
Some officials privately have speculated that Brice allegedly could have done ESCI work on Fire Authority time.
The Fire Authority spokesman said Brice wasn’t available for comment. Richter couldn’t be reached. The fire chiefs association didn’t respond to an email request for comment by press time.
Fire Authority officials are in an early phase of gathering the subpoenaed records for the FPPC and has every intention of complying with the request, the spokesman said.
If, for some reason, the requested material isn’t provided, the FPPC subpoena calls for a Fire Authority representative to attend a Feb. 5 meeting as a witness at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in Santa Ana.
The Fire Authority spokesman said he had no information regarding whether the DA is also investigating the issues.
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