INDIANAPOLIS — West side elected officials are pushing for action following a WRTV Investigation into the Wayne Township Fire Department.
WRTV Investigates found the current and former fire chiefs, as well as the township trustee, used a nonprofit to pay themselves on top of their six-figure government salaries.
WRTV Investigates’ findings are concerning to several City-County Councilors who represent Wayne Township, including Councilman Jared Evans, D-District 22, who says the fire chief needs to go.
“It doesn’t sit well,” Evans said. "It's concerning. We've been hearing concerns from individuals about the stories that have been coming out."
Most of Evans’ district is Wayne Township, and he’s concerned about how his constituents’ tax dollars were spent.
Wayne Township Fire Department Inc. is a tax-exempt 501c3 nonprofit corporation founded in 1954.
Township officials have been receiving compensation through the nonprofit, which is funded through donations and taxpayer money.
Taxes filed in 2020 show the nonprofit’s five board members each received an annual salary of $17,500 totaling $87,500.
Among those compensated include now-retired fire chief Randy Adams, current township trustee Chuck Jones, and Mike Lang, who became Wayne Township’s fire chief in May.
Randy Adams, Chuck Jones, and James Parham are listed as directors for the nonprofit, Mike Lang is the president and Tim Smith is the secretary, according to the 990 filed in 2020.
“This nonprofit corporation needs to be dissolved,” Evans said. “If there are grant dollars or things of that nature that need to come to the fire department, we should just try to work with the Indianapolis Public Safety Foundation. It’s used for a lot of our public safety entities here in Indianapolis.”
The board members’ compensation is even more concerning considering Lang and Adams have already taken heat over their fire department administration pay.
As WRTV reported in June, Lang got paid a total of $151,766 last year as a deputy chief at the fire department including $14,445 in overtime.
As fire chief, Adams got paid $190,345 last year including $41,860 in overtime.
On top of their government salaries and overtime, they also received $17,500 salaries from the nonprofit—some call this “triple dipping.”
As township trustee, Jones received $105,504 in compensation last year for his elected position.
All five board members are also slated to get even more nonprofit compensation this tax year-- $20,000 per board member, according to Lang.
"It doesn't seem right,” Evans said. “I've never heard about a board of directors at a small nonprofit taking that sort of income. Especially when you consider they were already getting taxpayer-funded incomes."
Adams retired in May, but the councilor says the current chief, Lang, needs to go.
“We need some new leadership at the fire department,” Evans said. “We’ve got a history here of things that have been going on. We really need to look at cleaning house and looking inward and how we can really build that trust not only with the citizens but also with those firefighters that are being impacted.”
In 2019, then-fire chief Adams reached a new agreement with the nonprofit.
As a result, taxpayers paid the nonprofit $42,020 in 2019, $136,799 in 2020 and so far this year they’ve paid $62,000.
That’s a total of $240,820 in taxpayer money that went into the nonprofit in just over two years, and 78% of which went to pay the nonprofit’s board members, according to WRTV’s calculations.
Evans said the board members should pay it back.
“It’s a large amount,” Evans said. “It’s not a good thing, and it’s something we need to get resolved.”
The Wayne Township Fire Department Inc.’s tax returns filed this year are not publicly available yet.
Many of the records WRTV Investigates requested were not provided because nonprofits do not have to follow the Indiana Access to Public Records Act.
Indianapolis City-County Councilor Jessica McCormick, D-District 15, represents the central part of Wayne Township, and is calling on the current township trustee and fire chief to turn over documents related to the nonprofit Wayne Township Fire Department Inc. and to comply with any outside audits.
"I appreciate that you brought this story to light,” McCormick said. “I would like to see the fire department and the trustee's office be more open and transparent and work with any agency that's asking questions and provide documentation."
McCormick said the township needs to consider new leadership for its fire department.
"I want to make sure we have good leaders in those roles so it might be something where we do look at that,” McCormick said.
McCormick and Evans are both Democrats, as is the current township trustee Chuck Jones.
The fire department administration’s overtime and use of nonprofit money has drawn criticism from both political parties, including former township trustee Andy Harris, a Republican.
The Indiana State Board of Accounts, the state agency that audits local government, says it plans to look into the Wayne Township Fire Department soon.
"Finding out information like this is important so we can be the best that we can be,” McCormick said. “Opening conversations is a good thing to have and learning from our mistakes and how can we improve and be better and recognizing where those faults are.”
Evans said steps need to be taken to prevent a similar circumstance from happening again.
“A lot of good things come out of audits, including what can we do better to make sure we are building trust and to ensure these sort of things don't continue to happen again,” Evans said.
Mike Lang provided the following response to WRTV regarding the councilors' comments:
"We have discussed dissolving the nonprofit in the past. Throughout the previous twenty-one years, each board member, trustee, and fire chief have been able to see the good that is accomplished through the utilization of Wayne Township Fire Department, Inc. Unfortunately, the actions and ideas from Chief Adams will tarnish the many years of community support that was accomplished. I am not familiar with Indy Public Safety Foundation, but I am not opposed to utilizing them if they are an appropriate alternative.
Trustee Jones spoke many times throughout his campaign and since being elected, that he was not a firefighter and would allow the fire chief to run the fire department. While I was certainly in Chief Adams' administration, he made decisions that were outside of my recommendations. Ultimately, Chief Adams had ideas and made decisions that he is not readily available to explain. Since my appointment as fire chief, my administration and I have been working to prevent the issues that have been raised. We immediately changed the overtime interpretation to prevent much of the previous overtime. We have worked with the union representatives to change the language in the labor management agreement that allows administrators to preschedule overtime. The new Labor/Management Agreement should be completed for presentation at the next Township Board Meeting. The nonprofit board has agreed that the concept of a volunteer ambulance service is not practical and Chief Adams' idea was immediately stopped. The use of the non-profit corporation will only be used for donations, grants, and special projects, if it is kept as an active partnership. If kept, I will ask a township board member to be the fire chief designee for additional oversight. I will ask the non-profit board to set up a meeting with the Indy Public Safety Foundation to determine if they would be a better option.
My thoughts would be that Trustee Jones unfortunately was placed into defending actions and decisions that he did not understand or know were being made by his appointed fire chief. The changes that the councilors and/or public believe that Wayne Township needs, took place on May 21st. I serve at the pleasure of Trustee Jones. As long as I am the fire chief, we will work regain the trust of the elected officials and public that we are honored to serve."
You can read full statements from Lang and Trustee Jones on the nonprofit here.