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South Adco Fire changing policy after CBS News Colorado investigation: "We are going to do better"

South Adams Fire makes changes after CBS News Colorado investigation
South Adams Fire makes changes after CBS News Colorado investigation 03:45

South Adams County Fire Chief Ken Koger says his department is revamping some of its expense and travel policies after a CBS News Colorado investigation reported the department spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to feed and facilitate spouses of department administrators and board members traveling to in-state and out-of-state conferences in recent years.

"We can and we are going to do better," said Koger, following the South Adams County fire district board meeting Tuesday evening.

He was addressing a CBS News Colorado report that aired a week ago, showing that fire department administrators and board members have regularly been taking their spouses to winter conferences in Florida and fall conferences in Keystone, billing taxpayers for their spouses' meals and other expenses, and extending their stays before and after conferences.

Koger, who is paid $227,000 per year, estimated the additional costs were around $5,000 over the last couple of years, which is as far back as CBS researched.

Anya Otterson, who was a South Adams County firefighter in 2022, went along on one of those conference trips to Orlando and said "it was uncomfortable." She said with wives and partners going along, "it felt a bit more like a vacation than a working trip. The dinners we went to were very lavish. I remember seeing a bill for a steakhouse that was around $700, and it was whatever food you wanted, whatever alcohol you wanted." She went on to say that at least one department chief recounted going to play golf rather than attending conference seminars. "It just left me with a weird taste in my mouth about the priorities of leadership," said Otterson.


While Koger said, "I don't think we're doing anything wrong," with respect to spending, he said the department is likely going to revert to a per diem system for conferences, which is a daily flat rate to cover expenses incurred by employees during business travel. He said the use of department credit cards or P-cards during travel will likely be curtailed.

Asked if spouses will still be allowed to tag along on business trips, Koger said, "No, our wives are not going to go. They don't want to be blasted on TV. It's not fair to them."

Craig Machuga, president of the board overseeing the fire department, declined to comment, directing questions to Koger. Like Koger, he had taken his wife along to multiple conferences. 

For some three-night conferences, the administrators and board members and their wives would book six nights of hotel rooms, typically arriving two nights before the conference began and staying an extra night or two after it ended.

In an email sent this week to department members and obtained by CBS News Colorado, Koger defended the past travel practices, saying he and the Board of Directors "take our role as stewards of public funds with the utmost degree of seriousness." 

His email went on to justify the conference spending, saying one Keystone, Colorado, conference "encourages spouses to attend events, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners outside the daily classes associated with the conference."

Records show that for out-of-state conferences, employees and board members did reimburse the department for their spouses' airfares, and in one case, Koger reimbursed the district $549 for alcohol consumed by the group during a dinner.

The department previously said, "We believe that treating a colleague or family member to a meal and having them attend an event is a small token of appreciation for their support of our organization."

Anya Otterson said the policy never felt right. "In public safety, we have to hold each other to the highest standards," said Otterson. "Just because it's been going on for a while doesn't make it OK. It needs to change."

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