Wednesday, April 23, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

The chief takes a walk: ‘He was getting raises while we were taking cuts’

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From page A1 | April 08, 2013 | 27 Comments

Editor’s note: This is part two of an article detailing the El Dorado County Fire District’s recent problems. Part one ran in the April 5 Mountain Democrat. 

Distrust in El Dorado County Fire District Chief Bruce Lacher bubbled over in May of 2012 when 94 percent of the firefighter’s union membership gave him a vote of no confidence.

Lucas Shepard, who was president of the firefighters union at the time, said initially they were told by Chief Lacher that concessions would have to be made because the district was $500,000 short due to a decline in property taxes. He said the union came back with a concession package that included a pay cut along with members paying a part of PERS and their health benefits. He said the cost of the concessions varied from between $800 to $1,800 per individual. “We thought we were doing our part,” he said.

Later the union was told that additional concessions were needed and sooner because of the district’s dire finances. “We didn’t know at first that there was a huge deficit,” he said. “We didn’t know we were $1.6 million in the hole. There were no red flags in those previous years.”

At that point, he and other union members went to the county Auditor-Controller’s Office to get what he described as an “education on the district’s books.” He said it was then that they found out that at the same time they were being asked to take a cut, the chief and his subordinates were receiving raises.

According to Shepard, Lacher received a 30 percent raise over the five years of his contract plus healthy deferred compensation contributions by the district. It was a pretty sweet deal,” he said. “It was plain why he didn’t want anyone to know what he had. He was getting raises while we were taking cuts.”

Shepard said it was common for Lacher and the other battalion chiefs to take time off but not count it as vacation so they could cash it out at the end of the year. ”Why shouldn’t they? Nobody was watching,” he said, claiming that as a result the district was paying out tens of thousands of dollars in “unused vacation time” every year.

Shepard went on to say that Lacher had planned to retire in March and use his vacation time between the time he went on leave in October and when he retired. But instead he was still being paid his full salary. He said Lacher has since filed a Workers’ Compensation claim, which would result in protecting 50 percent of his income from taxes.

“This guy ruins a seven-station fire department in less than four to five years,” Shepard said. “He’s going to make $180,000 a year for the rest of his life plus full medical for him and his family. He got all his deferred compensation … and he’s going to get off scot-free. Plus he’s suing the district for stress and he’s the fire chief. And until it’s resolved, we have to keep him on the books.

“Lacher had the board of directors wrapped around his finger. I absolutely blame Lacher and the board for lacking the backbone to ask the tough questions. Lacher is continuing to drain and abuse the system that did nothing but pad his pockets and take care of him and his family for 30 years and look at how he’s leaving the place.”

Cutting back

Since the revelation last October of the $1.6 million deficit, the district has hired CPA Michael Ocenosak of Terrie Prod’hon to keep the board and staff informed when expenses and revenues deviate from what is budgeted.

He said the district was in the red for a simple reason: “They spent more money than they got. Their revenues dropped off severely, but no adjustments to expenses were made.”

According to Ocenosak, in 2009-10, revenue was $1.7 million below budget; in 2010-11 it was $2 million; in 2011-12 it was $2.58 million. By 2011-12 they had no reserves left in the general fund and they had to start taking money from other areas to cover the deficit.

Ocenosak said the chief was also not reporting to the board that property taxes had dropped significantly and that expenses needed to be curtailed.

According to Shepard and others, that’s because Lacher wasn’t actually doing the books. They claim a former chief was actually preparing the yearly budget.

Another issue was a new accounting and financial reporting provision (Government Accounting Standards Board 45) that requires employers to measure and report long-term retiree liabilities such as health care. Ocenosak said the district always paid the health care costs of retirees on a pay-as-you-go basis. “However as a result of GASB 45, they recognized there was a long-term liability that needed to be addressed,” he said.

Since the revelations about the $1.6 million deficit last year, the district has taken steps to bring its budget into balance. Two chiefs were given early retirement in return for payouts of $50,000 each. There were concessions by the union, which Shepard said came to $600,000. The district also settled what it owed the Joint Powers Authority (JPA) last December for a little over half a million dollars.

As a result of all these cost-cutting measures, according to Ocenosak, the district may actually have a small reserve at the end of the fiscal year as long as it doesn’t have any unexpected expenses or big fires that eat it up.

Aftermath

The list of those still angry about what happened to EDCFD under Chief Lacher is a long one. And though progress is being made in setting things right again, there are still a number of issues still up in the air.

District employee Sheryl Calfee has since filed a claim against the district with the Fair Employment and Housing Commission as well as with Workers’ Compensation. Her husband said she may also sue the district.

Since last November the board has added two new members and is now receiving real-time financial information on a regular basis.

The district is also in a much more stable financial position than it was last year, although property taxes are projected to be flat in the coming fiscal year.

According to action taken at the most recent EDCFD board meeting, consideration is being given to have Cal Fire run the district. Board members asked Acting Fire Chief Mike Hardy to put out a request for proposal (RFP) to CalFire to find out what it would cost them to run the district and at what level of service. Hardy said he would be bringing that information back to the board at its next meeting on April 18.

Hardy said the board made it very clear that no decision had been made but they wanted that option available to them, given the district’s ongoing budget difficulties.

Meanwhile former Lacher, who left the job in September, continues to draw his full salary of $174,960 using sick leave. He has also filed a Workers’ Compensation claim, saying workplace stress is the source of his injury.

Lacher was contacted regarding a comment but was unavailable at press time.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or dhodson@mtdemocrat.net. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 27 comments

  • Blake JobsonApril 07, 2013 - 11:52 am

    How convient that Mr. Lacher is never available for comment... I wonder what Rock he is under for his Vacation..? You Can Run Mr. Lacher, But you can't hide forever. If it was a different Era, you would be stoned with the Rock you are hiding under...

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Jennifer JohnsonApril 07, 2013 - 12:38 pm

    This is just getting started!! FYI. Indeed Lucas Sheppard was right when he said that Chief Lacher had the board wrapped around his finger...that is, all except one member, Michael Dennis. He tried over and over again to get the Board to see the light of day but was always voted down 4 to 1. The Chief and the Board are certainly responsible for this entire debacle, but one Board member was doing his job and serving the public with integrity. Shame on the others. Our firefighter/Paramedics deserve much better. So does the public.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Robert DawsonApril 07, 2013 - 12:51 pm

    As a result of all these cost-cutting measures, according to Ocenosak, the district may actually have a small reserve at the end of the fiscal year as long as it doesn’t have any unexpected expenses or big fires that eat it up. Unexpected expenses??? How about an engine going down. Something as simple as a flat tire??? Big fires?? Are you kidding me?? Every year we have huge fires that take millions of dollars to put out. WE LIVE IN THE MOUNTAINS FOLKS!! Good going Lacher!! Good going all AC, BC and council and board. Mr. Ocenosak, there is NO RESERVE AND ALL OF THE UPPER MANAGEMENT KNOW IT!!! But their pockets are full so.... Who cares. Right? What a bunch of lying bad men! Hope you sleep well at night and have sweet dreams while everyone took a huge paycut and don't have time to sleep or maybe take their kids somewhere for the summer. Huffman's having fun in So Cal. Perhaps the rest of them are trying to avoid jail time!!

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  • WilsonApril 07, 2013 - 8:16 pm

    $1.6 million + pay raises + 94% vote no confidence + $50,000 each for early retirement + self induced stress work and comp + an absent chief making $185,000/yr + manipulated vacation + non accounted time off + $600,000 unpaid to the ambulance EMS = The Chief (Bruce Lacher) x The Board (Mark Johnson, Ed Courtial, Joe Rose, Dennis Edwards, Tom Mahoch) Looks like a simple equation....but where there's a scandalous Chief/Board, there's always scandalous management that adds to the equation.

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  • James E.April 07, 2013 - 8:57 pm

    I know nothing about El Dorado County and Placerville politics, but if 20% of what I read on this thread is true, a Federal Grand Jury would be appropriate. Lucky for many that the U.S. Attorney doesn't read this thread.

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  • 1036-FrankApril 08, 2013 - 8:14 am

    I have seen this pattern of "No one's looking and the books are cooking" many times over the years. This play book is disgusting and it usually involves more then simple corruption, they usually vote themselves and fellow Gob's raises, bonuses, time off, and promotions if they will all "Keep it quiet" so they can bump their pensions to obscene levels and cash out huge banks of unused sick and vacation time and be gone before being caught. Then if caught a very "Sudden Injury" develops, he isn't fooling anyone and I hope he doesn't fool the DA.

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  • GayleApril 08, 2013 - 9:04 am

    There's an old saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely I think that's been proven in this instance. I understand that on our Fire Board we have at least one retired employee of the Fire District and another who is a good friend of Chief Lacher. This sounds like a good old boy network going on here and whatever the chief told them they bought it. This is the problem with no one but an elected board overseeing a Fire District, there are no checks and balances no one making sure rules are followed. Ms. Calfee and Michael Dennis I applaud you for having the courage and perseverance in dealing with these issues it couldn't have been easy. Chief Lacher all I can say is, you are the gum on the shoe of every tax paying citizen in this town!

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  • Susie OApril 08, 2013 - 9:20 am

    I am a public employee. I put money into, and will have a modest pension when I eventually retire. Why in the heck does ANYONE get a $180,000 pension? I don't care if they are commander in chief, there needs to be a cap of $3,000 per month MAX for pensions, no matter who you are or what you do. Crazy.

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  • Sandy pApril 08, 2013 - 10:05 am

    JAMES E much much more than 20% is true. It's rotten!! FRANK you nailed it. It screams "cover up". Everyone commenting is 100% right. I just wish all the people could understand or try too. Number in powers!! 3rd Thursday of every month is a meeting. The district has no money to hire a new chief so chief Hardy has stepped in. I don't know him. He walked into a firestorm!! Then again he is and was wearing a white shirt. Lets do the right thing guys and gals!!! Be honest!! The board as well. Admit wrong doing and let's get back on track!!!

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  • DarrenApril 08, 2013 - 10:34 am

    this story would make a good movie

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  • WilsonApril 08, 2013 - 1:42 pm

    Or a good grand jury report! The only problem is, what will it solve? It will validate that the Managemnt is corrupt, but the management will retire and leave the problem to those who found the problem-the firefighters. Besides, the article said they got an RFP from CalFire...it doesn't sound like the current management will be able to manipulate the tax payers anymore. They should be embarrassed!! They should give back their pay raise!! They should be held accountable in the court of law!!! They should be demoted!! Ultimately, they SHOULD keep the oath they swore to the public!! If lacher is so stressed, how can he still help out the sports organization at el dorado HS? There are a lot of questions that still aren't answered. A lot of back door deals still taking place, I'm sure. 1036 Frank- you understand this corruption and spelled it out accurately! The current Board Memeber (Mark Johnson) got a promotion right before he retired-thus, bumping up his retirement pay! Oh, he is lachers good buddy and partner from back in the day as well! Lacher backed him and now he's in the position to back lacher at the board level...

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  • F055April 08, 2013 - 3:59 pm

    Dear Chief Lacher, We trusted you! We put our lives on the line for you. I hope the funds that you swindled from our family's living, from our family's benefits, from our family's education, and from our family's retirement is enough to cover the embarrassment and shame that YOUR wife and kids must face everyday. Job well done Chief, job well done

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  • J. OthersideApril 08, 2013 - 4:59 pm

    I think a better challenge, for both parties and the MD, would be to publish the numbers for the past 5 years. Compensation does not appear to be private or protected information according to these letters. So publish the salaries, the perks, the union dues, the rank and file pay, the whole shot and let the taxpayers decide who is zooming who.

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  • sandyApril 08, 2013 - 5:20 pm

    Boardmember Johnson is indeed a buddy of swindler's Lacher...the District never had a need for an Asst Chief until it came time for Johnson to pad his retirement and walk away with a good bank-roll...I hear Johnson actually assaulted an employee, and there are witnesses. I love the District's legal counsel who once defendeded Lacher as the prodigal chief and now who has legal claims agains the district err... us folks-taxpayers and now whom has to defend the district...so, attorney Wright gets wealthy from the very idiots he has to "cover". What a great deal. Then there's former Board Member (elected) Tom Mahach...When the deficet was vetted he made the proclaimation that he would "do whatever it would take to understand the District's budget" even though both he and Johnson were the "budget-managetment" committee w/lacher...he was on the Board for over 10 years and Johnson was on staff for decades...can these men not step up and accept an ounce of responsibility between them - doubtful. This is what happens when an institution is allowed to do whatever it wishes with a bunch of lazy elected officials with internal ties that go un-checked. what an embarrasment for everyone that has stepped up, not the least of which is former Board Member Michael Dennis, Shepard and Ms Calfee.

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  • fo55 is rightApril 08, 2013 - 8:05 pm

    "Dear Chief Lacher, We trusted you! We put our lives on the line for you. I hope the funds that you swindled from our family's living, from our family's benefits, from our family's education, and from our family's retirement is enough to cover the embarrassment and shame that YOUR wife and kids must face everyday. Job well done Chief, job well done" Well said.

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  • MikeApril 08, 2013 - 9:13 pm

    So what about the accountability of the board? I am not saying the chief isn’t responsible for this but if you look at the boards’ meetings minutes. Any measure to cut spending was shot down 4-1. Thank you to the one member that had a brain to try to stop this monster spending problem.

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  • Don't get LacheredApril 09, 2013 - 7:57 am

    Wow, this guy used to be a loyal, proud IAFF Brother. What a shame Mr. Lacher, you betrayed not only the public trust of our proud citizens but the trust of your brothers. You should be stripped of your pension and sent to jail. I'm sure I can speak for the rest of us, you will never be considered a brother and the respect you had earned is now in the sewer with the rest if the s---. We all have a term now in the FD when someone gets screwed over...it's called getting Lachered, your new legacy

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  • JimApril 09, 2013 - 8:52 am

    So many people have been "Lachered". So many families!! I agree, his pension should be revoked and so should all the others involved. Lets see what the DA will do with this new info. He ignored it all at the beginning. I'm not so sure he can ignore this, this time!! Someone mentioned a federal grand jury. Could that even be a possibility? I don't know. We all need to keep this information in the public. Letters to editor. Attend board meetings!!! Next meeting is the 18th of April. Not sure of the time however.

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  • County ResidentApril 09, 2013 - 12:06 pm

    Board meetings are normally held at 4:00pm the 3rd Thursday of each month: 2850 Fairlane Court, building "C" in Placerville. Please call the El Dorado County Fire Protection District at 530-644-9630 prior to meetings to confirm schedule.

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  • JustApril 09, 2013 - 12:32 pm

    Mark Johnson's church of LDS must be so proud of him. He's an elder in his church. How do you sleep at night Mark Johnson? How'd all those fancy phone app's work for you that you were bragging to all the guys about on your new phone, that the district bought for you? And you, Lacher- you are pond scum. You are stressed? Oh, I'm sorry you caused this all on your own. Hope you lay awake at night and think about what your jail cell will look like. Your wife and children have got to be so embarrassed and ashamed of you. How to you show your face at El Dorado High, during sports events?

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  • kyle SmithApril 09, 2013 - 4:02 pm

    As our forefathers so aptly said that there are things that are "self evident". The lack of leadership in this district is clearly lacking. While this Board of director's is relatively new it is well poised to re-establish integrity if it has the will and business sense to do so. Let's begin with an open recruitment process with qualifications that include business and personnel management...not like the current policy of moving-up-the-proverbial-ladder. The interim leader Chief Hardy has absolutely no respect of the staff nor union - this is problematic. Nor does he have any training in the very assets needed to lead the district such as finance and personnel. You need an outside proven leader. The union will never respect the current administration because it has never led by example...which is also "self evident". Interim Chief Hardy is a Lacher protege'. He hand picked him. Lacher even defended Hardy despite the fact that the union has witnesses of Hardy (with his county issued fire-attack suv) at Cold springs Country Club on numerous occasions while supposedly on-duty (6th hole?) and even conducting a garage sale at his Cedar Ravine home also while "on-duty". These are just a few reasons but there are many more...the board needs to begin its leadership role instead of taking a back seat role.

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  • Placerville ResidentApril 09, 2013 - 11:04 pm

    These comments are like watching a feeding frenzy of sharks. The more you read, the crueler the people get. This is so unbelievable. The remarks being made against Bruce Lacher make him sound like a criminal. They are attacking everyone, even the Interim Chief, Mike Hardy. And then they attack Mark Johnson and bring up his religion, this is wrong. The article is clearly biased, reporting the union perspective; along with the remarks made by the husband of an employee who has a complaint filed with the state and is threatening to sue the district. And don't forget Mr. Dennis. It is clear that he partnered with the employee and the Union to destroy the Chief. Mr. Dennis’ son is part of the executive board of the Union. This is a huge conflict of interest. Dennis was appointed and once seated; he turned on the very people who placed him there. One only has to go to the County Auditor’s website and view the budgets for EDCFPD to see that salaries and benefits increased sharply over a number of years. In the 05/06 FY, salaries and benefits totaled $6,678,676. In the 11/12 FY, salaries and benefits totaled $9,384.348. These figures reflect an overall increase of 2,705,672. It certainly appears someone was getting raises. When salaries go up, it causes retirement, workers comp and overtime to increase. Sadly property values were falling and we all know the rest of that story. Mr. Lacher did not break the district, the housing market did. When property values declined it took a couple years for it to impact the property tax funding for all agencies. Now if the people who were working the budget did not see the huge deficit, then why would one expect the Chief or the board to see it? You have to be able to trust the people working for you. In this case, these people were working against the administration, which is wrong. These people are supposed to be confidential employees. Now don't get me wrong, I don't believe that the Chief should have taken raises when he was asking the line personnel for salary/retirement concessions. This caused the union to go after him with the help of Mr. Dennis and the woman who filed the complaints. Just think about this scenario; if the raises were still coming to the union personnel, this never would have happened. This fire district is no different from the hundreds of public agencies in the state that are suffering and asking their employees to cut back. What has happened is people are jumping on this blog, saying vicious things, screaming for blood. Most of them are probably district employees. Nothing criminal has been done here, there has been no cooking of books, embezzlement or manipulation of tax dollars. Most of the comments are so personal and so immature. I really believe these articles are doing more harm than good for the reputation of the district. Basically every penny was spent on Class 1, Salaries and Benefits. The District was giving raises to the troops and taking reserves to cover the raises. When the money ran out, the war was on. I don’t know the answer, but perhaps the district should do an in depth forensic audit. The bottom line is these people should be ashamed of themselves. Apparently they don’t want us to know the truth; they make it sound as if they were getting nothing. Not true. What it so sad is, this fire chief hired all these people and look what they did to him. Unbelievable, just freaking unbelievable.

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  • SSMRRApril 10, 2013 - 11:04 am

    Dear Placerville resident, I'm sure if you were on the recieving end of this CRIME you would feel different. Now let's talk...Bruce is that you? Did you come out of hiding to respond to the truth, Or did you just have one of your " YES MEN" write it for you? Either way it's not going to work anymore. Now let us pray that D.A. Peterson does his job. Time for justice for all. P.s. (I hope this wasn't too immature )

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  • disgustedApril 10, 2013 - 1:11 pm

    You all should be ashamed of yourselves. It is quite obvious that most of those commenting are either employees of the district or closely related to one. You speak of honor, courage, devotion? This has been nothing but embarrassing name calling and low blows to good men who have been falsely accused. Would you have the nerve to say these things to these men face to face? Probably not. To call someone a criminal and to insult his family? Shameful. To insult someone's religion? Bigoted and disgusting. Have there been mistakes made? Sure. Did the union make mistakes? Yes again. I won't speculate about the agenda of those who have caused all this because I would be doing the same in pointing fingers. Just ask yourselves- are you doing the union any good by publicly acting so hateful and immature? Do these posts help you "sleep at night" as many have questioned of the accused? Do these comments help mend the black eye the district already has from recent events? Move on! Stop proving the public right that we are a bunch of spoiled, over-paid and over-pensioned babies. I'm sorry Bruce and Mark for the things that these people are saying out of anger and ignorance. I hope it will stop. I know I'm not alone in thinking this way.

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  • CitizenApril 10, 2013 - 3:11 pm

    What crime has been committed here? What do these people want the D.A. to do? I to have looked over the budgets online at the auditor's office. Revenues decreased, spending increased. Wow, can you all just put an end to this? I am a taxpayer and I am disgusted with this one sided story. These firefighter's are not the only public employees that are being forced to give back. If they don't want do, than close stations and lay off people. I am embarrassed for these people who are making such horrible remarks. Everyone needs to step back and just stop it.

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  • orlApril 17, 2013 - 9:11 am

    dear "citizen" and "placerville resident" - you have no idea what you're talking about. leave this issue to the people involved and directly affected. Lacher is a disgrace for a man and certainly shouldn't even have the title of Chief. He's a small man with an even smaller moral agenda. He has not only STOLLEN money from these REAL heroes, but he's caused so much strife within the department - setting others up simply because they wouldn't go along with his corruption. What scum. These men and women give their lives everyday to protect this county and it's citizens, they deserve a REAL CHEIF that would give his life (and pension) for them. just read what FO55 wrote and then shut your mouth - you have no right to comment and you are just as corrupt as lacher.

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  • HI-5April 17, 2013 - 8:15 pm

    "Vengeance is mine says the Lord." I love it when Words like that come to fruition.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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