Friday, November 2, 2012

Sun Valley fire chief, wife, son all resign

Jeff and Cristina Carnes were paid about $112,400 for administrative leave

Express Staff Writer

Jeff Carnes

Longtime Sun Valley Fire Chief Jeff Carnes, his wife and his son have submitted letters of resignation to Mayor DeWayne Briscoe.

“We resigned Sept. 27,” Jeff Carnes said in an interview. “I enjoyed 38 years of service with the city. I started in 1974 as a volunteer.”

He declined to give a reason as to why he, his wife and son resigned.

Carnes’ wife, Cristina Carnes, was a building official assistant and his son, Nick Carnes, was a paid on-call firefighter.

According to information provided by the City Clerk’s Office, Jeff Carnes was hired by the city in October 1979. Cristina Carnes was hired in January 2005 and Nick Carnes began volunteering for the city in June 2007.

Briscoe read the three resignation letters during a City Council meeting on Oct. 18.

“I have resignations from three city employees,” he said at the meeting. “A letter from Mr. Fire Chief Jeff Carnes says, ‘Dear Mayor, I hereby resign my employment with the city of Sun Valley.’”

The wording in all three letters was identical, except for Nick Carnes’, which said “volunteer position” instead of “employment.”

“Having accepted these resignations, on behalf of the city, I would like to thank Chief Carnes for his many, many years of service to the city,” Briscoe said.

Jeff Carnes said Wednesday that he appreciated Briscoe’s thank-you. He declined to comment on anything else. Briscoe was tight-lipped as well.

“It’s a personnel matter that I really can’t comment on,” Briscoe said. “I have several state and federal law restraints.”

Jeff and Cristina Carnes have been on paid administrative leave since Dec. 20, 2011, with a two-day break between Jan. 3 and Jan. 5. The break occurred when Briscoe’s administration took office. Former Mayor Wayne Willich restored them to active duty before his administration ended in early January, but Briscoe resumed the paid leave as soon as he stepped in.

Virginia Egger, interim executive assistant to the mayor, wrote in a Sept. 4 email to the Idaho Mountain Express that Nick Carnes was notified Jan. 5 that he would “not be available nor called out as a paid Fire Department volunteer.”

In an email, City Clerk Hannah Stauts stated that about $91,050 was paid to Jeff Carnes while he was on administrative leave. She said Cristina Carnes was paid about $21,370.

In early September, Jeff Carnes said he didn’t know why he and Cristina Carnes were placed on paid administrative leave or why Nick Carnes was told he would no longer be on call or receive pay from the city.

For the past two months, Briscoe has been conducting “name-clearing” appeals hearings in response to the findings of a forensic audit commissioned by the city in April to investigate potential fraud in the city’s financial affairs during fiscal 2011.

The audit (which cost about $160,000), related legal fees (currently reaching $96,500) and money paid to the Carnes family and other city employees for paid administrative leave (more than $215,000) have so far cost the city nearly $500,000.

The audit was delivered to the City Council on Aug. 24, but has not been released to the public. It was subpoenaed by Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas on Aug. 28. The subpoena was issued pursuant to a grand jury investigation involving “former and or present employees of Sun Valley.”

Briscoe has stated that state and federal laws prevent the city from releasing the audit publicly until everyone mentioned in it has the opportunity to appeal to him.

“All I can tell you is that the review process for the forensic audit and the name-clearing hearings are still ongoing,” Briscoe said Thursday. “I can’t pinpoint a time [for its release].”

Briscoe declined to comment on whether Jeff, Cristina or Nick Carnes are mentioned in the forensic audit or if they had met with him during the name-clearing hearing.

Brennan Rego:

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