Council, community react to Fews hiring

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 4, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &8212; Past allegations of impropriety aimed at new Fire Chief Ronnie Few have caught many city leaders by surprise, they said Friday.

On Thursday night, the city council voted unanimously to hire Few as fire chief, pointing to his experience in Augusta, Ga., and Washington, D.C. But on Friday, three councilmen said they knew nothing of Few being asked to resign from the D.C. position after allegedly falsifying his resume and that he had been investigated by a Georgia grand jury for mismanagement of the department.

Few is scheduled to assume his new position as effective Monday. Councilman Jack Cooley, who is a member of the Finance Committee, said the agreed upon salary for Few is $62,000 annually. This amount exceeds the initial amount set by the city by $17,000.

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When the city first advertised the vacancy following former Chief George Davenport&8217;s retirement in December, the council set the salary at $45,000. When Davenport retired, he was drawing a salary of $54,000 annually. After Capt. Tommy Tate rejected an initial offer of $50,000 to to become the next fire chief, the city reopened the application process and set the salary at $50,000. The mayor said in May the salary could be &8220;negotiable [beyond $50,000] with experience.&8217;

Tate said he initially asked the city for $62,000. During negotiations, he lowered his salary requirement to $58,000. During an interview with the city council on July 5, Tate maintained his desired salary amount was $58,000.

During the second round of accepting applications, Few put his name into the mix and became one of two candidates interviewed for the position during the July 5 meeting the other being Tate.

On Thursday night, Councilman Thomas Moore presented the recommendation of the Personnel Committee &8212; made up of Moore, Councilman Melvin Yelverton and Mayor Cecil P. Williamson &8212; that Few be hired.

Following Few&8217;s hiring, several past controversies came to light, with some residents questioning Few&8217;s ability to lead and the council&8217;s background search. The questions were first raised on the Internet and became the topic of discussion on a local online forum.

In researching Few&8217;s past, a basic Internet probe on Google found numerous documents and articles implicating Few in a special grand jury proceeding involving the management of the Augusta Fire Department, an investigation by the Inspector General of the District of Columbia on charges of falsification of items on his resume prior his hiring as fire chief of the Washington ,D.C., Fire Department and coverage of Few&8217;s failed mayoral campaign following an investigation of his residency in Augusta.

According to Williamson, the Personnel Committee did a &8220;thorough&8221; background check on Few, where they did find some information about his previous positions in both Augusta and Washington, D.C.

When asked if the other council members knew about the incidents in question, Williamson said that the councilmen had access to all the information found by the committee.

Moore said that the controversies surrounding Few&8217;s past were &8220;purely allegations&8221; and that none of them had been substantiated. When asked if the other council members who do not serve on the Personnel Committee were informed of these controversies Moore said, &8220;I can&8217;t recall if they were verbally told about them.&8221;

Moore also said that he feels that the incidents in Few&8217;s past were racially motivated, and that &8220;people don&8217;t want to have a powerful person in position as fire chief.&8221;

Councilman Yelverton, who also serves on the Personnel Committee, said he was aware of the allegations made against Few during his time as fire chief in Washington, D.C., but the Personnel Committee deemed the incident to be &8220;politically motivated&8221; and a non-issue.

When Cooley was asked if he was made aware of Few&8217;s past, he said he just received information about it today.

When asked if the council could take any action to revoke the decision made last night, Cooley said, legally, they could terminate him if they decided to do so.

Councilman Charles Jones said he was also unaware of these past issues.

Councilman Woody Collins said, &8220;I don&8217;t know what&8217;s going on. This is the first I&8217;ve heard of all of that.&8221;

When asked about his opinion of Few&8217;s past he said, &8220;All I ever heard about him was that he was squeaky clean.&8221;

Collins also said he would have liked to have known about the controversies prior to the city council&8217;s interview so council members could have had a chance to ask Few about the allegations and let him explain his side. He also said the information may not have changed their decision, but it would have been a good idea to have that conversation.

Tate, who served as interim chief and was also considered for the fire chief position, said he did not know anything about Few prior to Thursday&8217;s meeting. Tate said he met Few for the first time when he congratulated him on his new position.

When asked about the council&8217;s decision, Tate said he has a positive attitude and will accept the decision the council made.

When asked about working with Few, Tate said, &8220;I hope he&8217;s ready to go because there is a lot to be done.&8221;

In addition to the construction and operation of the new fire station, Tate said the department is looking to acquire a new truck and six firemen.

Tate also said that he was told Few had some constructive new ideas, and he would continue to have a positive attitude about the changeover.

On D-Live, a local online forum, several comments about information regarding Few&8217;s past caused one thread to get 1,759 views and 63 replies as of press time. The comments, which are posted using anonymous usernames, express concern over the council&8217;s decision to hire Few.

One comment posted read, &8220;If Demopolis city administration and council missed learning these things about Few, then they have really created a mess for themselves. If they did know these things and hired him anyway, then shame on them! Lets see: Tate = honest, respected, qualified, above board. Few = dishonest, will not be respected, falsification of records, not above board. Yeah, its a real no-brainer!&8221;

Another stated, &8220;This is nothing but another big fat black eye for the City of Demopolis. The Mayor and City Council will be regretting this one in the days and weeks to come, if they&8217;re not already regretting it! Best thing they could do would be to can this one before he even sets foot in Demopolis. It will be a whole lot cheaper to get out now than it will be down the road, I can assure you!&8221;

In regards to the allegations against Few a poster stated, &8220;It seems like someone or some people were trying to set him up!&8221;

On another forum thread discussing Few&8217;s hiring a poster stated, &8220;This new guy deserves a chance! I don&8217;t know if he&8217;s qualified or not, but let&8217;s not bash him before he even gets started.&8221;

Sam R. Hall, editor and publisher of The Times and Brandon Glover, sport&8217;s editor of The Times contributed to this report.