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Democrats ask Wayne Township Trustee to step down citing "lapse in judgment"

Letter signed by 7 elected officials
Posted at 4:44 PM, Sep 07, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — Seven elected Democrats are asking one of their own to step down from office following a WRTV Investigation into the Wayne Township Fire Department and its use of taxpayer money for fire administration compensation.

In a letter dated September 1 and delivered last week, Democrats who represent parts of Wayne Township told Trustee Chuck Jones that they’ve lost faith in his abilities, and asked him to resign his elected position.

The letter is signed by Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, State Senator JD Ford, State Rep. Renee Pack, State Rep. Vanessa Summers, as well as city-county councilors Crista Carlino, Kristin Jones, and Jessica McCormick.

“Taxpayers deserve a Trustee and Fire Chief they can trust and with these current accusations, there is a stain on the township office and your administration,” read the letter.

The letter references an “investigation by local news media” that former fire chief Randy Adams and his administration charged overtime for travel associated with his duties.

PREVIOUS | Wayne Township Fire Department administrators take heat over overtime pay | New fire chief pledges changes to payroll

As WRTV reported in June, as a deputy chief, Mike 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, Randy Adams got paid $190,345 last year including $41,860 in overtime.

Adams retired in May and Lang now serves as the Wayne Township Fire Chief.

The letter also expressed concern that fire department leaders had used a nonprofit to earn additional compensation.

“It is with great disappointment that we ask you, our colleague, to step aside from your position as Wayne Township Trustee so that the concerned citizens of Wayne Township can have their faith restored to this office,” read the letter. “Furthermore, we ask that Chief Mike Lang step aside as well. We also ask that you immediately dissolve the non-profit.”

City-county councilors told WRTV Investigates last week that the nonprofit, Wayne Township Fire Department Inc., should be dissolved and community donations should instead be made through the Indy Public Safety Foundation.

The Indiana State Board of Accounts plans to look into the fire department soon.

“We ask that you open your books and commission an outside firm to do an independent audit of the financials, policies, and procedures,” read the letter. “To date, we believe you have not shown any remorse, which is both disheartening and frustrating. We believe that you have had a lapse of judgment in handling this entire matter.”

The only elected official on the letter who has agreed to an interview with WRTV is councilor Jessica McCormick.

"I appreciate that you brought this story to light,” McCormick said last week. “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 last week.

The letter said Democrats have tried to work with Trustee Jones and have asked for documents to prove the allegations are wrong.

“We have been more than patient in waiting for these documents and you have failed to do that,” read the letter. “You have eroded our trust by shutting us out and you have eroded the public trust that was placed upon you when you were elected by the voters (and taxpayers) of Wayne Township.”

WRTV Investigates is working to get a response from Trustee Chuck Jones and Fire Chief Mike Lang.

“The authors of this letter believe that while there may not have been any illegal or criminal activity, the actions by you and the chiefs you’ve appointment (Chief Adams and the current Chief Mike Lang) do not represent the character of ethics of our community,” read the letter.

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.

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.

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.

City county councilor Jared 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.

The fire department administration’s overtime and use of nonprofit money have drawn criticism from both political parties, including former township trustee Andy Harris, a Republican.

Mike Lang provided the following response to WRTV regarding the councilors' comments last week:

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 to 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.