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Ex-fire chief's money plan sparks doubt

After ousted Seffner-Mango volunteer fire Chief Bradley Price and his partners sold the defunct station at 1706 Kingsway Road, residents started talking.

They wanted to know what Price would do with the $325,000 in proceeds. After all, they said, their donations helped build the station long before Price ran afoul of county authorities.

For months, Price kept silent.

Now, he has an answer for them: He'll give it back to the community — but not all at once.

Price says he'll hang on to the money and dole it out, a few thousand dollars at a time, whenever uninsured local residents lose their homes to a fire.

It's a plan designed, he said, to make sure his foes don't forget him.

"I want to stretch it out as long as I can," he said recently, "just to keep the name there, just to be a thorn in Hillsborough County."

Asked several times by a reporter to produce proof that he has not yet spent the money, Price put it off each time.

Price's bad blood with the county started years ago. In 2005, he was accused of sexually harassing a volunteer and posting nude pictures of himself on a dating Web site.

Before Hillsborough County Fire Rescue could investigate, Price resigned as chief and president of the volunteer company's board. But he wouldn't be gone long.

A few months later, voted back in as board president, Price appointed himself "administrative chief" and stayed at the station, doing everything but going out on calls.

Finally, the county declared the station unfit for habitation, citing mold problems. Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Bill Nesmith confiscated the company's equipment, disbanded the volunteers, and installed an all-new volunteer company in a bungalow down the street.

All that was left of Price's Seffner-Mango fire station was an empty building and the defunct nonprofit company that owned it, Seffner-Mango Volunteer Fire Department Inc.

Shortly after the old station was shut down, Price promised residents at a meeting that if the building were ever sold, the profits would be "reinvested into the community."

Three years passed.

In July, the nonprofit board sold the property to a local investment company. Some residents wondered if Price would make good on his promise.

Legally, it seemed, he had to.

What charities do

As a nonprofit, Seffner-Mango Volunteer Fire Department Inc. has certain responsibilities, said Bennett Weiner, chief operations officer for BBB Wise Giving Alliance, a national charity watchdog group.

"If for any reason a charity no longer functions in terms of fulfilling its mission, they still have the option of forwarding money to an entity that most closely matches the mission of that organization," Weiner said.

But Price wouldn't say what he was doing with the money from the sale. He was busy dealing with a messy divorce and facing domestic violence charges brought by his estranged wife. Meanwhile, the new volunteers were trying to raise money in the community — and finding that Price's reputation preceded them.

"We don't get a good response," said volunteer Chief Robert Van Etten. "People are kind of leery ... They say, 'We're not going to donate to you. We donated to them all these years, and where's the money?' I have no answer to that."

Give it to new station?

The county plans to build a new fire station this year. Until then, the new volunteers are still working from the bungalow. The county lends them equipment, but they must come up with money to pay the daytime shift.

"We're struggling," Van Etten said.

He would have liked Price to donate the $325,000 to the new station, he said.

Others in the community say the same.

"I think a lot of people who donated over the years to that location would like to see the money used toward the new location," said resident Marjie Boyd.

She wasn't reassured by Price's stated plans for the money.

"It sounds like his intention is worthwhile, but is it going to happen?" she asked.

Chief Nesmith was also skeptical.

It's so rare that an uninsured homeowner's house burns down in the Mango-Seffner area, he said, that Price might hang on to the money forever.

"It sounds good on the surface, but when you look at it, it's real lame," Nesmith said.

Price said he thought his plan was "the best way to give back to the community." He added that while he had enjoyed helping people, he didn't miss firefighting.

"I wasted 30-something years of my life on a venture where I should have done stuff for (myself) instead of doing stuff for other people," he said.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at srosenbaum@sptimes.com or 661-2442.

Ex-fire chief's money plan sparks doubt 03/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 1:46pm]
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