Board shake-up over $150K revelation


Mark Dillingham recently stepped down as president of the Riceville Fire Department Board in favor of a position as vice president. He offered no explanation regarding a $150,000 check made out to Skyland Fire Department from Riceville. Photo by Chad Nesbitt

Approximately 100 people showed up at the Riceville Fire Department Board Meeting Monday night (Nov. 13) and called for the president of the board, Mark Dillingham, to step down. The calls included calls for law enforcement to look into the dealings of the board.

Last week the Tribune/Leader broke the story that Riceville Fire Department Board President Mark Dillingham wrote a check from the Riceville Fire Department to the Skyland Fire Department for $150,000. Dillingham also works for the Skyland Fire Department as a division chief.

According to sources close to the Skyland board members the board knew nothing of the $150,000 check and neither did its treasurer. There were no minutes recorded about the $150,000 check at the Riceville Fire Department, and it was not discussed at any of the regular meetings. A source at Riceville says it was “sketchy” on how the vote was taken by phone.

At the start of the board meeting the secretary of the board, Dan Friday, said, “I don’t think we should start the meeting until we know what bylaws to go by.” When Friday said that, the audience got angry with the board. Attendee Mark Lieberman said, “Y’all don’t even know what bylaws you are operating on.” A woman in the back row hollered, “This is a kangaroo court” and for 30 minutes the board deliberated with people in the crowd whether they should go by the 2004 bylaws or the 2008 bylaws.

Which bylaws to use effected board member Dover Dillingham, Mark Dillingham’s uncle, who was voted to serve on the Riceville Fire Department board by using the 2004 bylaws stating that he could serve and have family in the fire department. Mark Dillingham opened the meeting and the board voted to go by the 2008 bylaws which meant that Dover had to be removed because he cannot have family in the fire department and serve on the board at the same time.

The board then voted Dover as treasurer just minutes after he was removed. After that, Board President Mark Dillingham immediately dismissed three board members of the board for not giving an excuse to missing a board meeting. When one of the three board members challenged Dillingham, Dillingham said, “According to the bylaws, that you wanted to go with, you didn’t notify the president of the board,” that said board member would not be able to attend a meeting.

After that, Dillingham announced that he was stepping down as board president and would become vice president. He gave no reason why he was stepping down.

The secretary read the minutes of the last meeting of which mentioned nothing about the $150,000 being issued to the Skyland Fire Department or returned to the Riceville Fire Department. The board then accepted the minutes. Dover Dillingham, the new treasurer, apparently had already filled out the treasurer’s report, even though he was just elected to the position, and read it to the board. He said nothing of the $150,000 check or it being returned last month.

The floor was then opened up for public comment of which Riceville resident and former police officer Lee Barrett said, “This is the biggest scam I have ever seen in my entire life…A member of this board, who is employed as a chief at another fire department, facilitated a loan to that fire department for $150,000. With no collateral put up, with no signed documents, no nothing…To give our money to another fire department is illegal. In my opinion it may very well be embezzlement. At the very least it’s a Wanda Greene version of mishandling funds.”

Barrett then called for Buncombe County EMS Director Jerry Vehaun, who was in attendance at the meeting, to direct the county to take over the Riceville Fire Department. Barrett said he had plans to ask the SBI and other law enforcement agencies to get involved.

Resident Heidi Hensley said to the board, “What are you going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” Hensley was also concern that the board, by its actions, may have ruined the department’s 501(c3) status as a nonprofit.

Former board member Keith Brown was very emotional and said, “I have been with the fire department since 1991. I was disgusted after the last board meeting. It’s not the same fire department it used to be.”

The Riceville Fire Department chaplain (name unknown) stood up and was concerned about the ethics of the board. The chaplain said, “This board reflects the firefighters and the community.” He then asked for Mark Dillingham and others to step down.

After several other members of the crowd spoke out against Dillingham and the board, Bill Mills, a board member, stood up and said, “This isn’t the Riceville Fire Department anymore. It’s turned into the Dillingham Fire Department.” Mills then resigned.

Then board member Merle Johnson said, “I’m not going to be a part of this board anymore.” and resigned from the board in front of the crowd. Johnson said, “The board is heading in a direction I don’t want to be a part of. I feel like there is a lot of collusion and vote swinging in the direction of one individual.” The meeting was then adjourned with no answers for the angry residents.

After the meeting, EMS Director Jerry VeHaun told the Tribune/Leader that he was “surprised” about the $150,000 check. “Legally, I don’t think there’s anything illegal about one fire department loaning another some money, but loaning it without some kind of loan paper? I mean, I would love to go to a bank and say give me $150,000,” VeHaun said. “I think that’s a little strange.”

Also in attendance at the meeting was Buncombe County Commissioner Mike Fryer who declined comment on the proceedings.

As Mark Dillingham was leaving the building the Tribune/Leader asked him why he wrote the $150,000 check without the Skyland Fire Department board members knowing about it? Dillingham said, “The board from Riceville has asked that if you have any questions to write them down and give them to David [Thomas], the [new] president of the board, and they will decide what they can answer and give them back to you at the next board meeting.” Dillingham then walked off as the Tribune/Leader tried to ask him some more questions, but he refused to answer.

On Tuesday, November 14th the Tribune/Leader is scheduled to meet with the Skyland Fire Department. The Tribune/Leader gave Chief Ryan Cole and Skyland’s board members a list of questions which the Tribune/Leader hope to get answers. For the results of that meeting be sure to follow our reports on Facebook at Leicester Leader or pick up next week’s copy of this paper.

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