STRASBURG, Colo. – After Denver7 reported on allegations of equipment breakdowns and conflict of interest at a small-town fire protection district, the agency has become even less transparent. The Board of Directors of the Strasburg Fire Protection District took the unusual step Thursday night of banning all recordings of their public meetings.
"This board is a bunch of good ol' boys used to doing things their way," said Brad Jones, a former Strasburg volunteer firefighter recently fired after he appeared on Denver7 reporting the equipment issues. He leads a group called Friends of Strasburg Fire, drawing attention to poorly-maintained ambulances and trucks breaking down on critical calls.
The shop being paid to maintain the shoddy equipment is owned by the fire board president, Don Sherer, and Jones has argued he does not have a mechanic qualified to work on emergency vehicles.
"This is and remains a public safety issue at its core," Jones said.
But it has also become an issue of government behind closed doors.
Friends of Strasburg Fire has been shooting video of board meetings, recently suing the board for going into executive session without going through legally required steps.
The board's response Thursday night: to ban all recording in board meetings, stating in a policy it was to prevent "interference and intimidation."
After the board unanimously approved the new policy, members called 911 and threatened to arrest Jones if he did not stop recording.
"The District can and will press charges against you. Is that clear?" attorney Russ Dykstra said.
But eventually, Jones said, the board members got tired of waiting for deputies and adjourned without holding the meeting.
"Absolutely, the timing is suspect," said Jeff Roberts, the executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, who said the state's open meeting law doesn't address recordings, but a blanket ban from a board under scrutiny doesn't look good. "Instead of saying, 'Here, watch how we’re doing this,' they’re closing off access."
Board President Don Sherer would not comment, and the fire chief said members of the department have been instructed not to talk to the media.
Jones said his group is considering further legal action to address the recording ban, and he plans to keep fighting for his friends in the department and the people they serve.
"We can’t go save lives and save property with equipment that doesn’t work," Jones said.
Meanwhile, he said that change is happening slowly.
Sherer has said his shop will no longer maintain emergency vehicles, and the town has said it is buying a new ambulance.