A lengthy investigation into allegations against Porterdale Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ronald Savage has found that although problems exist, they are mainly due to a lack of training, an issue that falls back on the city council.
The investigation arose out of 13 separate complaints lodged against the chief by a volunteer firefighter. The complaints ranged from accusations of mishandling funds to issues of sexual harassment and racial slurs.
Following an investigation by Porterdale Police Chief Geoff Jacobs, it was determined that although mistakes were made with record keeping, they stemmed from a lack of training on the chief's part.
"I believe that he has a huge love for the volunteer fire service, has the respect of most of his volunteers and enjoys being the fire chief," reads Jacobs' report. "I also believe that one or more volunteers saw a need to advance the professionalism of the PVFD and upon expressing this were misinterpreted by Chief Savage as a threat to his position and authority. This, in turn, caused further suspicion by the volunteers and the entire matter became larger than it should have."
Savage admitted to the accusation of using corporate funds to put gas in his vehicle on a few occasions, but that he believed he was entitled to do this since he was performing fundraising-related duties at the time for the fire department.
"...Any of the checking account transactions that were unaccounted for or questionable, were infrequent and small in nature," said Jacobs' report. "The mere fact that these transactions happened reflects sloppy record keeping and poor judgment; however, it does not indicate to me any criminal intent to deprive the corporation of its finances, as would be the case in an extortion or theft matter."
Jacobs recommended that the city of Porterdale and Newton County should seek training for Savage and that in the future, the position should be applied for and appointed. Savage has been a volunteer firefighter for 42 years but has never been a fill-time firefighter, nor has he had any training with budgeting, bookkeeping or accounting.
In fact, he has had only a "fire officer's class" that he took in the 1980s, according to the report.
In addition to adequate training, Jacobs suggested that the agency as a whole should received sexual harassment training going forward, even though the claims of it were unfounded.
According to Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby, the city has no plans to remove Savage as fire chief but said he could likely benefit from more training in record keeping.