Nepotism Partly Behind $150,000 in Misused Funds in Mason County Fire District, Auditor Finds


Three people in Mason County's Fire District No. 12 have been found to have misused public funds and other money, totaling about $165,000 since 2017.

The state Auditor's Office published reports this week about the fire district that serves southwestern Mason County and has just two employees.

The chief of the department, as well as one of the commissioners and the district secretary were behind the misappropriation of nearly $70,000 in public funds and $95,000 in "unsupported expenses," according to the State Auditor's report released on Sept. 20.

According to the report, the commissioner involved is married to the district secretary, and the fire chief is their daughter. The report blames the noncompliance with state laws, lack of monitoring and spending activity in part on nepotism.

Auditors also documented an overall disregard for state laws at the district in areas including ethics and conflicts of interest, open public meetings and financial transparency.

In the report, state Auditor Pat McCarthy said there's nothing wrong with family members working together, but people should still be held accountable, no matter if they're related.

"High standards for public accountability are both challenging and necessary. Washington fire districts of all sizes meet them every day," said McCarthy in the report. "Our audits show financial and other safeguards are sorely needed in this fire district. The community and their elected commissioners should demand no less."

Auditors found several other issues within the district, including that the chief misappropriated $23,337 and received $40,086 in questionable payments through payroll, credit cards and disbursements.

The secretary misappropriated $8,839 and received $5,115 in questionable payments, and the commissioner misappropriated $693 and received $10,100.

The auditors also found the district had not reported quarterly payroll tax payments to the IRS since December 2018. And it had failed to post adequate notice for public meetings, admit the public into virtual meetings, and would sometimes not hold regular meetings as legally required.

In May, auditors recommended the district file a police report against the three involved in the incident, but as of Aug. 17, nothing has been filed. According to the district's website, it's currently accepting resumes for fire chief. More information about the audits can be found on the state auditor's website.