In 2014 the McLendon-Chisholm Volunteer Fire Department [MCVFD] began paying astronomical fees, specifically, ten percent of every grant awarded, for “professional grant writing services” to the fire chief’s brother who is NOT a professional grant writer!
Aided by MCVFD’s Treasurer and current candidate for city council, Herman Larkin, Chief Robert Jones has used his brother, M.E. Jones, to funnel tens of thousands of tax-payer dollars through a fraudulent scheme that has padded the pockets of he and his cohorts. This discovery helps explain why Jones & Larkin abruptly backed out of their commitment to permit the City to conduct the first audit in the MCVFD’s history.
The MCVFD had supposedly ended the contract with the fire chief’s brother in 2016 but Larkin let it slip that payments to M.E. Jones have continued each time new grant funding comes in.
While the MCVFD may be structured as a private not-for-profit (501(c)4) entity, 100% of its funding comes from taxpayers!
In fact, no private funds have been raised in more than two years (The fire chief’s claim that the City’s adoption of last year’s new solicitation ordinance prohibits the MCVFD from door-to-door solicitation IS FALSE, as the ordinance only requires that solicitors obtain a permit and does not explain why nothing was raised in the year prior to that or in the unincorporated area of its fire district, which makes up two thirds of the total area where more than half of all MCVFD calls are dispatched).
Evidence of Fraud
Though they kept the identity of this so-called professional grant writer hidden for more than four years, the following seven empirically-based facts prove why a grant writer was a completely gratuitous expense and why the contract was an obvious act of fraud, which uses public funds for personal benefit.
- Professional grant writers know how to identify the many granting agencies/institutions for which an organization may qualify.
- However, in the four years as MCVFD’s grant writer, M.E. Jones, submitted multiple applications to only one agency, the Texas A&M Forest Service [TAMFS], which is the same taxpayer-funded state granting agency that the MCVFD had applied and won grants from in the years before he was contracted as MCVFD’s professional grant writer.
- Applications for most granting institutions and foundations are typically twenty pages or more and requires applicants to provide specific information that often takes hours of leg-work to gather and then compose in a specific format, which is how a grant writer can save a not-for-profit time.
- However, the TAMFS application is just three pages or less and was specifically created to be easy for anyone to apply, as proven by the fact that the MCVFD received multiple grants from this same agency in the years before Jones’ brother was contracted
- The majority of TAMFS applications submitted by the MCVFD have been for training and insurance, all of which can be completed in ten minutes or less.
- Most important to recognize is that ninety percent of a TAMFS application requests information that can only be provided by the actual applicant, making any grant writer totally dependent on the work of the VFD’s staff to provide.
- The MCVFD would have to communicate with any grant writer the specific funding need and review the application before it was submitted.
- In light of these facts, the following is clear;
- Most twelve-year-olds could complete a TAMFS application, which is why contracting with a grant writer is completely gratuitous.
- The majority of the MCVFD’s time to complete a grant application far exceeds the small fraction that a grant writer might save, which is further evidence that this “arrangement” was an obvious act of fraud.
- Since most privately funded granting institutions base their decisions on subjective measures when choosing between multiple qualified applicants, a professional grant writer can create a more compelling case for support on a grant application, which provides a competitive advantage over others.
- However, as a public taxpayer-funded agency, the TAMFS must approve grants based on objective, not subjective, measures, which includes the timing of the application compared to others (first come first serve and availability of funds), which makes the need for a creative writer to draft a compelling case for support completely unnecessary.
- The experience & expertise of a professional grant writer provides a not-for-profit the best chance in both securing a grant and preventing applications from being submitted to granting sources for which they do not qualify and would be rejected.
- Yet, before contracting with the MCVFD, Chief Jones’ brother had never charged a professional fee for writing a grant application whose grant-writing business does not have a registered DBA, which is why payments are made personally to M.E. Jones and not to a true business.
- Professional fundraisers distinguish themselves through degree programs offered by many universities or by an accredited certification such as Certified Fund Raising Executive, which ensures that they have the training (via academic degree) &/or experience (via certification) to charge a professional fee for services.
- The letterhead on the contract for professional services by the fire chief’s brother highlight’s his academic credentials; a bachelors degree in criminal justice and masters of science degree, however no mention of any degree or certification in fundraising. There is also no accompanying documentation highlighting the so-called grant writing professional’s qualifications or experience.
- To be considered a professional in any field one must typically derive at least half of their income from that profession.
- However, Chief Jones’ brother has just one grant-writing client, the MCVFD, and has a full-time job that is unrelated to fundraising.
- The total amount of time necessary to complete all of the grants that this faux professional fundraiser has submitted in the time of the contract could not amount to more than five or six hours. Yet for that paltry investment of time, the MCVFD has shelled-out tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars that were intended to benefit and support fire safety for those inside MCVFD’s fire district, but have instead likely been used to fund Jones’ daughter’s tuition at the University of Arkansas and vacations for Jones and his friends, including Herman Larkin who calls Jones his best friend!
- All professional fundraising associations in the US, including the largest of these, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, have determined that compensating a professional fundraiser on a percentage basis is unethical, which is why professionals wishing to be certified in fundraising &/or join a professional fundraising association like the AFP must sign an agreement affirming commitment to this standard.
- Chief Jones’ brother is paid 10% of every grant awarded, including a $20,000 payout for the $200,000 taxpayer-funded grant from the TAMFS awarded to the MCVFD for the purchase of a new $200,000 fire truck, just for filling in a three-page standardized form, which has left M-C taxpayers holding the proverbial bag to make up the $20,000 difference. (CLICK HERE to view the actual grant application, correspondence between TAMFS & MCVFD, and grant payout check).
- M.E. Jones is not a member of any professional fundraising association/organization.
Keeping the Fraud Under Wraps
Back in 2014, before he was elected to the M-C city council and unaware that the grant writer under contract was Jones’ brother, Robert Steinhagen, a professional fundraiser & “Certified Fund Raising Executive” [CFRE], questioned Jones & Larkin about the unethical practice of paying a grant-writer on a percentage basis.
From notes taken during the meeting, Steinhagen stated that the fire chief claimed that he didn’t have time to write grant requests because “he said he was too busy running the department.” Steinhagen recalls that “though he had no evidence to substantiate his claim, Chief Jones stipulated that ‘most grant writers serving VFD’s are compensated on a percentage basis.'” Steinhagen continued, “even after presenting him with a copy of the Association of Fundraising Professional’s [AFP] Code of Ethical Standards, which every member must sign and affirm as a qualification for membership, and highlighted standard 21 & 24 which stipulates that percentage-based compensation is unethical, Jones insisted that I didn’t know what I was talking about.”
For the MCVFD Incompetence & Inexperience Pays
Based on call logs that include mutual aid fires in Royce City, Fate, Heath, Terrell, and Rockwall, Jones could not have fought more than five structure fires from inside a structure in his entire career, making him one of the most inexperienced volunteer fire chiefs in the state.
Chief Jones has never been a full-time firefighter (his background is in information technology) as his only experience comes as a volunteer via the MCVFD. In the four years since being appointed fire chief by the ten-members of the MCVFD, Jones has neither been certified with Texas Commission of Fire Protection [TCFP], the only regulatory agency in the state, nor achieved any level of officer certification via the State Firefighter & Fire Marshall Association [SFFMA], making him one of the least qualified fire chiefs of a VFD in the state.
- Taxpayers have a right to know why a fire chief with almost no real firefighting experience who lacks fundamental qualifications for the role is paid more than $50,000 as a part-time employee making Jones one of the highest paid part-time VFD fire chiefs in the state. Despite his primary income from a separate and unrelated full-time job, Jones MCVFD salary is more than double what the former full-time fire chief was paid!
- Why is it that for a department that covers a fire district of fewer than 5,000 people (half that live outside the city and contribute nothing to their own fire safety) and where emergency calls average fewer than one per day does a highly compensated fire chief claim that he doesn’t have the time to fill in three-page grant applications?
Audit? We Don’t Need No Stinking Audit!
During an open & public city council meeting both Fire Chief Jones & Treasurer, Lt. Herman Larkin had agreed to a certified audit going back five years by the same independent accounting firm that has audited the city over the past eight years. The City Council also agreed to foot the bill for the audit and included it in the 2017/2018 budget.
However, when the auditing firm called to schedule, Mr. Jones and Larkin abruptly changed their minds without notifying the City Council and continue to refuse an independent audit.
A Kipphut Collusion
Failed candidate for city council, Mark Kipphut, who hastily became an official member of the MCVFD after the City Council requested that Chief Jones’ step away from the negotiating table because of his volatile & irrational temperament, became one of the two MCVFD representatives in negotiations with the city, the other is John Crumbly, Chief Jones’ next-door neighbor and outspoken advocate for M-C taxpayers to continue funding fire protection to the unincorporated area of the fire district, which is where he and Chief Jones live.
Kipphut argues that the MCVFD is a private entity and should stay that way when he was addressing the M-C City Council on two separate occasions emploring the council to continue funding without accountability because of its private structure. He even quoted Ronald Reagan who said, “There is nothing that government can do more efficiently than the private sector,” despite the fact that 100% of the MCVFD’s budgeted funding comes from taxpayers (83% of which is M-C taxpayers), including all grants awarded over the last ten years.
In negotiations with the City Council, Mr. Kipphut’s refusal to allow the MCVFD to undergo an independent audit was non-negotiable. In fact, each time the City Council attempted to reinstate an independent certified audit going back five years as a condition of integrating the MCVFD into the City Mr. Kipphut removed it and insisted that no audit would be allowed.
The Gravy Train Will End if MCVFD Becomes City-Governed
State law requires that the fire chief of a city-owned fire department be TCFP certified and Robert Jones is not! Should the MCVFD ever become part of the city, state-mandated accountability will follow. The gravy train will come to an abrupt end, which is why Jones, Larkin, and Kipphut will do everything in their power to prevent or delay such a move for as long as they can.