Apple Valley officials say Fire Department sabotaged Town Council for ‘political gain’

The Smithsonian Fire Department located in Apple Valley, Utah, on June 27, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Apple Valley officials say they believe the Fire Department sabotaged members of the Town Council for political gain.

The State Fire Marshal traveled to Apple Valley Thursday to confiscate fireworks that were allegedly illegally purchased across state lines by members of the town council, but Councilman Mike McLaughlin said the fireworks weren’t actually confiscated, because the Town Council returned them once they realized it was illegal.

“What we felt was in question, we got rid of,” he said. “We took them back.”

Councilwoman Debbie Kopp is a member of the events committee, which oversees this year’s fireworks show. She said the council made the decision because the Fourth of July was getting closer and there had been no word as to whether their fire agency, the Smithsonian Fire Department, would be hosting the annual show like it had in previous years.

McLaughlin was asked to oversee the purchasing of fireworks for the show during a town council meeting. He met with Fire Chief David Zolg Jr. to discuss what he would like to see happen in the show because he wanted the fire chief to be involved.

A picture of the Apple Valley Fire Department discharging fireworks during the 2018 fireworks show in Apple Valley, Utah, on July 4, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Apple Valley Mayor Marty Lisonbee, St. George News

McLaughlin asked Zolg where he purchased fireworks in the past, what types were permitted and what the council would need to do to ensure safety and prevent fires. Zolg had organized the shows in the past.

McLaughlin said he spoke with Zolg about what he planned to do, where he planned to go and what he planned to purchase. He said Zolg approved everything, stating that the fire chief never approached members of the town council or the mayor to raise concerns or communicate any wrongdoing.

“He was fine with whatever we did with our fireworks as long as our weather was permitting,” McLaughlin said. “Then – all of a sudden – things got turned around and blown up to this big ordeal that got out of hand.”

A couple days before the Town Council planned to travel to Moapa, Nevada, to purchase the fireworks, Councilman Denny Bass said Zolg asked to tag along. Bass is a veteran of the Armed Forces and receives “a good discount” on fireworks, which he said Zolg told him they wanted to use. Bass said he was alright with that.

Bass said Zolg did not end up going with them to purchase the fireworks due to prior responsibilities.

“It’s appalling that he would try to use his position as the fire chief, as a servant of the town, to make the town council and the mayor look bad,” Bass said.

Apple Valley Mayor Marty Lisonbee said the fireworks were no different from any of the other products being sold from fireworks stands all over Utah — they were only illegal because they were purchased in Nevada. Lisonbee said Town Council members were simply trying to spend money wisely, as a fireworks package that costs over $200 in Utah is half the price in Nevada.

McLaughlin said the Fire Marshal told the council it did not have proper permits to purchase fireworks across state lines. McLaughlin said he never thought that would be an issue because he had purchased the fireworks under the supervision of the town’s fire chief.

Read more: Fire Marshal plans to confiscate Apple Valley Town Council fireworks

However, Zolg said the Fire Department was in no way involved in the illegal purchasing of fireworks for this year’s show. He said residents of Apple Valley donated fireworks that were used in past years and no fireworks were ever personally purchased by the fire department.

Fire Chief David Zolg Jr., date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of the town of Apple Valley, St. George News

“No fireworks have ever crossed state lines to be in any Fire Department event, ever,” Zolg said.

Bass said he feels Zolg used him “as a pawn” to make the Town Council look bad with “a big setup.” Bass said there are a few people in Apple Valley who do not want Lisonbee to be mayor — and one of them is the fire chief.

McLaughlin said the Town Council made an effort to “abide by the rules and regulations that we’re supposed to,” saying he believes Zolg sabotaged the council for “political gain.”

Zolg is running for Town Council this year, and Lisonbee said the fire chief is attempting to defame the existing council in order to win the election.

Lisonbee said the discontent between the Town Council and the Fire Department stems from the discovery of alleged nepotism and misappropriation of funds from a previous city recorder and the Big Plains Water and Sewer Special Services District.

Town officials found that the Water District chairman created a new position in the district and awarded it to his daughter, Juana McGinnis. McGinnis retained a full-time status and oversaw the book-keeping. Lisonbee said she received family health benefits, life insurance and a retirement fund for a position requiring no more than 15 hours of work each week.

Lisonbee said the Water District was funding the position unwisely, which is why the town voted to revoke its power as an operating body, resulting in McGinnis being fired.

“The fire chief doesn’t want me to be mayor because I fired a friend of his,” Lisonbee said.

An engine from Apple Valley’s Smithsonian Fire Department, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of the town of Apple Valley, St. George News

Lisonbee said he believes Zolg wants to win the election in order to rehire McGinnis.

McGinnis was also the town recorder, and Lisonbee said members of the town council uncovered “inappropriate book keeping” while she worked for the town. McGinnis went into the book keeping software Sept. 10, 2018, to make two entries stating the state owed the Water District a total of $56,000, Lisonbee said. McGinnis’ last day was Sept. 11, 2018.

After her last day, Lisonbee said town officials discovered other instances of “overcharging the city” that date back for months. The town’s software allows them to see which accounts make changes and at what times, which allowed them to see alleged changes being made from McGinnis’ account at late hours of the evening.

Kopp said the Fire Department and Water District are close and house vendettas against the Town Council and the mayor.

“It almost seems like they would rather see the town crash and burn than have Marty Lisonbee be the mayor again,” she said.

Ed note: This report was revised with clarification from Lisonbee as to the nature of McGinnis’ termination.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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