Local Editorials

Our view: Buck stops with Huntley fire board

Huntley Fire Protection District mechanic Rob Territo wheels a laser engraver into the meeting room at the District's  annex building on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018  The engraver is one of the questionable equipment purchases made by former Chief Ken Caudle.
Huntley Fire Protection District mechanic Rob Territo wheels a laser engraver into the meeting room at the District's annex building on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018 The engraver is one of the questionable equipment purchases made by former Chief Ken Caudle.

The lack of oversight displayed by the Huntley Fire Protection District board shows that reforms are needed.

While under the supervision of the fire board, former Huntley Fire Chief Ken Caudle spent tens of thousands worth of public funds over several years on a litany of items including a $7,000 robot and an estimated $14,000 engraving machine, an internal investigation revealed.

He was also moonlighting as a local police officer and picking up other side jobs – despite a clause in his contract with the Huntley Fire Protection District that forbade moonlighting. As fire chief, Caudle earned almost $150,000 a year.

Board President Milford Brown and trustees Jim Saletta and John Davis are responsible with approving all purchases made in the district, and making sure the chief follows his contract. Although they eventually figured out what was going on, there is no way the situation should have continued as long as it did.

In total, 54 items he bought were flagged for questioning during an investigation of Caudle that never concluded because he went on Family Medical Leave Act status and later retired.

Some items Caudle bought as chief seem to be tools of police work, such as an armor bearing duty vest, “ballistics,” handcuffs, tactical jackets and belts, and a stun gun recertification course, documents show.

Caudle resigned last year and later retired amid an internal investigation for his questionable spending and unauthorized moonlighting. He had been fire chief since November 2012.

Brown said the list of bills trustees approved weren’t always itemized.

When asked how trustees didn’t notice the purchases, such as pistol cases and stun gun classes, Brown said, “If I had seen any of that stuff on that list, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Under new Fire Chief Scott Ravigne, board members will be able to see what the chief plans to buy, rather than what’s already been bought, Deputy Chief Al Schlick said.

That’s a good step forward. But why did it take so long? Why weren’t purchases itemized sooner? We find it hard to believe no one saw or questioned Caudle’s use of an engraver, or robot – or questioned a purchase of a $14,000 item.

Board members need to remember who they represent – the voters and taxpayers. Although it appears they are keep closer tabs on spending, we wish that this lesson could have come cheaper.

Other taxing bodies that might be doing business the way the Huntley fire board was should take note, and move to stop excessive spending before it happens.

Property taxes are simply too high for citizens to be asked to accept wasteful spending from any of the governments they are required to fund.

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