With audit still secret, Liberty Fire chief quits post

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Liberty Fire Company Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Steve Miller, the chief of Liberty Fire Co., resigned last week, saying harassment from peers, friends and residents pushed him out, North York officials said.

Miller's resignation  comes a month after a dispute among borough council members over the public release of a fire company audit led to one member storming out of a meeting after saying she planned to quit her elected post. 

"As of this evening, (Miller) has resigned as our chief due to being harassed by many people he has helped as firefighters and thought he was friends with," North York Borough Council President Richard Shank said in a statement April 14. 

The borough council voted unanimously that day to accept Miller's resignation. Miller remains a member of the fire company, officials said. 

Miller did not return calls seeking comment.

In a second motion, the borough council unanimously voted to surrender its power to appoint fire company officers, such as the fire chief and deputy chief, giving that duty to the fire company's board of trustees. 

"Trying to get the fire company back on their own feet, we feel it's the responsibility of the fire company to be able to do that on their own," Shank said. "We will meet with the fire company officers, president and the trustees and ask them to appoint their own officers from here on out." 

Liberty Fire Company Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Council member Jamie Moore, who threatened to quit in March, was among those council members who voted to approve Miller's resignation.

Moore said Tuesday that she had changed her mind about resigning from the borough council. 

"Given the current climate of the council and the pandemic, I felt as though now wasn’t the right time," Moore said via email. "I don’t want my vacant seat being given to another person who will just fall in line with the majority. It’s simply not what we need at this point."

On Saturday, Liberty Fire Co. announced it had appointed David Abbott Jr. as its new fire chief. Though Miller is no longer chief, he is still a member of the department and remains as vice president on the executive board.

Calls to Liberty Fire Co. went unanswered, but a statement was issued via its Facebook page.

 "The fire company stands behind Miller and his decision. It’s personal and we support him," the statement said. 

North York, which provides $20,000 annually to Liberty Fire Co., will continue to provide financial support to the fire company, borough solicitor Walter Tilley III said.

"The borough provides and will continue to provide the building and pay for some of the equipment used by the fire department," Tilley said.

Liberty Fire Company Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Last year, North York commissioned a forensic audit after questions arose about the fire company's finances and long-term viability. 

Then-Chief Miller told The York Dispatch in March that he had not seen the audit and did not know what was in it. 

Tilley said Tuesday that the audit could not be released to the public because it relates to an "ongoing investigation" and a "personnel matter."

The York Dispatch has filed a Right-to-Know request seeking the audit. 

In December, responsibilities involving overseeing the fire company's social hall account were passed from Miller's jurisdiction to the borough.

More:North York borough concealing Liberty Fire Co. audit, councilwoman says

And, in September, 10 members resigned from the Liberty Fire Co. The exodus was attributed  to "conflict within members," Miller said. 

Tensions flared during the borough council's March meeting after discussions over the audit caused councilwoman Moore to walk out.

While Moore declined to offer any more details about the audit's contents, she said only that "things don't add up."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.