PRINCEVILLE — A heated Princeville Volunteer Fire Department business meeting Wednesday night resulted in the chief and the chairman of the board being demoted, another board member ousted, and a law enforcement officer standing between two firefighters to prevent a physical altercation.
In an 8-6 vote, the firemen ousted 10-year-veteran chief Billy Boddie. For more than two years, some of the firefighters have accused Boddie of mismanagement of funds and other infractions while others supported the chief.
"I'm going to act on this, but y'all have made a grave mistake," department president Don Pollard said before accepting the motion. "This man has done more for this department than any other chief that we ever had."
The firefighters appointed assistant fire chief Bobbie Armfield Jr. as interim chief. Sergeant at arms Melton Graham said his department would likely choose a permanent chief soon.
Boddie has been under the microscope for at least two years for allegedly mismanaging funds. Those allegations were brought to Edgecombe County Manager Lorenzo Carmon and Edgecombe County Emergency Director Butch Beach several times. During their investigations, both Carmon and Beach said they found no wrongdoing. Recently, the allegations became even more pervasive and triggered an investigation by the Department of Insurance.
"It is true that the Department of Insurance investigated the fire department, but they didn't find anything," Boddie said. "I've done no wrong. I've been informed by the fire department's lawyer that I have been cleared.
"I've passed every audit since I've been chief. I've been in the department for 31 years. I served as assistant chief for seven years and as chief for 10 years. I've done a lot for this fire department, misusing funds is not one of them. There's a lot of persona,l false accusations going on against me."
Beach dispelled one of the rumors that suggested Edgecombe County would shut the fire department down due to mismanagement of funds and division within the department. That rumor prompted town commissioners Ann Howell and Gwen Knight, along with county commissioner Viola Harris, to attend Wednesday's meeting.
"We have not discussed publicly or privately or any other way about taking over the Princeville Volunteer Fire Department," Beach said. "As long as they are fulfilling their obligation of providing fire protection to the citizens, they're abiding by the contract that they have with the county."
The firefighters also voted to demote Varnell Hanson as the chairman of the department. Firefighters opposing Hanson alleged he was not competent enough to fill the high ranking position. Hanson did not attend the meeting.
Board member Willie White did attend and it turned out to be his last meeting. White lives outside the department's fire district and, according to the Princeville Volunteer Fire Department bylaws, members on the board must live within the district. Firefighter Lamein Godwin said the issue has been brought before the board several times. The firefighters voted to terminate White. The firefighters also voted to terminate Henry Sherrod, who had not attended a meeting in two years. The dismissals left Tyrone Hopkins and Hanson as members of the five-man board. Graham said firefighters will select new board members soon.
With the department ISO rating scheduled for April 28, the removal of the officers couldn't have come at worse time. The annual rating is an inspection of the fire department records, equipment and firefighter's training hours to assure the department's ability to fight fire effectively. The lower the rating, the lower the cost of insurance to property owners.
"You all need to get this together," Howell said. "You are talking about people's livelihood. If it is necessary that someone step down for the benefit of this fire department, then so be it."
At least two firefighters verbally announced their resignations.
During a telephone interview Thursday, Boddie said he need some time to think about his next move.
"I've been in this department for 31 years and I've had some ups and I've had some downs," he said. "But I've never been through anything like what I'm going through now. When you get attacked personally like I've been attacked, it makes me have to sit back and take a good hard look at whether I want to be in the department or not. I'm going to take my time and make my decision. In the meantime, I wish them the best of luck."