ROCHESTER, Ill. (WAND) – The Rochester Fire Protection District spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to purchase equipment from a company that appears to be owned by the Rochester fire chief.
John Archer has an ownership interest in AEC Fire-Safety Equipment and Services in Springfield. Archer’s involvement in those sales took place even though an attorney for the district warned they may not be legal.
Those sales are an apparent violation of section 4 of the Illinois Fire Protection District Act. Purchases from the company can't exceed $1,000 and not more than $2,000 in a year. Working with the Paris-based Edgar County Watchdogs, the WAND I-TEAM reviewed numerous vouchers showing Rochester Fire was steering thousands of dollars to the company. These are sales which were approved by the Rochester Fire Protection District board.
The board's attorney sent repeated email warnings that doing business with AEC is a conflict. But those warnings were not given to every board member and were not followed.
“Two prior times the attorney had emailed a board member and told them the restrictions and how they can not be doing what they are doing,” said Edgar County Watchdog John Kraft. “But they continued to do it anyway.”
In a Nov. 5, 2019 email, the attorney writes: “A violation, by the way, is a Class 4 felony and would also result in a forfeiture of the Chief’s position.” A third email was sent to the board from the attorney in March 2020 concerning the AEC sales and purchases.
“So, the question is how many times does a board have to be notified that they’re committing a crime, or made aware their actions are criminal, before somebody does something,” asked Watchdog Kirk Allen.
According to May 13, 2020 board minutes, a “purchasing restriction” was placed on AEC. Board President Bill Riggs complained in the minutes that: “In the long run, it will cost the department concededly more to obtain the service and equipment previously provided by A.E.C. Fire Safety.”