The Broadwater County Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator is being investigated by the state for allegedly using his official capacity to let contracts to his own company.
The coordinator, former Lewis and Clark County Undersheriff Bill Fleiner, is alleged by a concerned citizens’ report to be the registered agent for Paradigm Communications and Preparedness Solutions, LLC, also known as PCPS, which is located in Helena.
Fleiner works part time for Broadwater County for $31 an hour, but county documents provided to the Independent Record by Tim Ravndal, show that he also draws $90 an hour through the contract with PCPS.
This relationship, which was approved by the former Broadwater County Commission, is under investigation by the Montana Department of Criminal Investigation.
The allegations surfaced June 12 in a 16-page document entitled “Report on the Peculiar Relationship Between Broadwater County DES and Paradigm Communications and Preparedness Solutions, LLC,” prepared for Broadwater County Commissioner Franklin Slifka by a coalition of concerned citizens, according to a note in the document.
The report was the subject of a 30-minute presentation by Ravndal at Monday’s commission meeting.
Ravndal’s report claims that starting in May 2012, Fleiner was “allowed by the Broadwater County Commission to start doing ‘contracted services’ with the DES through his private Paradigm Communications and Prepardness Solutions company.
“No written contract has yet been found in the public record as to what kind of work PCPS is to do for the County DES agency he manages,” reads the report.
“In effect, Mr. Fleiner, as County DES Coordinator, is allowed to determine what Paradigm-PCPS does, and Mr. Fleiner, as agent/manager of Paradign-PCPS, is allowed to determine how much he will charge the county for his firm’s contracted services. There appears to be no past oversight or public disclosure of this arrangement,” the report distributed by Ravndal further alleges.
Fleiner did not return a phone message left after the commission, nor an email sent to his work address seeking comment.
In response to Ravndal’s question at Monday’s commission meeting on how there will be accountability, Acting Commissioner Chair Laura Obert said she would not speak to the matter as it is under investigation by the Montana Department of Criminal Investigation.
Employees are also afforded rights to privacy, she said, declining to address allegations Ravndal had raised in his presentation.
“Until the investigation is concluded in full, there is no information. It’s just barely begun. We’re just in the first stages of that,” she said.
Ravndal said he would file a complaint specifically against Obert for multiple state violations of rights.
“I thank you for your time this afternoon, and it’s too bad that we have to go this direction,” he said.
“The claim keeps being made that this is a private matter and we need to protect the rights of the citizens,” Ravndal said.
“I will remind the commission that back in March of 2013 we’ve had public discussions on this very matter,” he told the commission during his presentation.
“There are minutes recorded discussing this very public matter. We have repeatedly asked for and sought to some of the questions but more importantly we have sought a discussion on the matter so we could administratively address this,” he continued.
He faulted the commission for not moving forward with a public discussion since the alleged problem with the grant first came up in March and said there needs to be accountability for the money that was spent.
After Monday’s meeting, Ravndal said he would start by filing a complaint with the county sheriff and not the District Court.
“That puts these folks into being responsible for their duty,” he said of what he hopes to achieve through a complaint.
“Why should the taxpayers have to go hire an attorney to hold accountable elected officials?” Ravndal asked. “It’s the elected officials that need to be held accountable by using the system that we have to work with.”
The June 12 county commission meeting, Obert said, is what led to the matter being given to the Department of Criminal Investigation.
John Strandell, the chief of the Division of Criminal Investigation, said Monday that he spoke with the Broadwater county attorney, Karla Bosse, and said he would review the information before deciding whether to accept the matter for investigation.
He had not yet seen the documents that Bosse was going to send him.
Prior to Monday afternoon’s commission meeting, Bosse said she had forwarded him the information and that she couldn’t comment because it is now an ongoing investigation.
Bosse said a conclusion that can be drawn from the allegations is that she would not have sent it for review if it had no merit.
Of the allegation, she said, “there’s a question about that, obviously.”
Ravndal said he wants to see funds returned that he alleged were spent in violation of federal grant rules and through conflict of interest and ethics.
Ravndal summarized the report’s contents at a commission meeting on Monday but was told by Obert that he could not mention names as this would violate the privacy rights of the county official named in the report.
Obert said there is a legal process for the reporting of allegations and it should be adhered to.
“Whenever there is suspicion of wrong doing, whether there is or there isn’t, the correct procedure is to report the suspicion to the county attorney,” she said noting the section of state law that pertained to this.
“This unfortunately was not done,” she added.
“All citizens are afforded a basic right of innocence till proven guilty so please keep that in mind as you listen to this presentation,” Obert continued.
The documents that Ravndal has presented do not contain all of the conclusions that he claims they do, Obert said.
Eve Byron contributed to this report.