OUR OPINION: Make entire meeting open and resolve this issue

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 7, 2007

In a way, we feel bad for newly hired Fire Chief Ronnie Few. He should be coming to town, seeing headlines heralding new leadership in one of the city&8217;s most important agencies.

Instead, he finds himself the center of controversy before he even took helm of the department.

Some will say the controversy is his own making, due to the controversies of his past. We do not see it that way.

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We see it as the fault of the Personnel Committee, who did not make publicly known what they had discovered during their interviews with Few. We cannot understand the secrecy in which they shrouded what is public information.

Had the full city council been given the opportunity to interview Few about his past, then all would be fine. If the council knew it, asked him about it and hired him still, we could feel comfortable that at least Few was fully vetted for the decision.

We understand that full vetting may happen tonight during a special called meeting of the council to discuss Few as fire chief.

For the sake of all involved, this meeting should be absolutely open. We know that the city council would be entirely within their rights to call an executive session and discuss Few&8217;s past behind a closed door. That would be a grave disservice to the citizens of this city and the firemen who serve the department Few will lead.

It would be different if allegations against Few were private, but they are not. They are very public, and so should be the discussion about them.

Furthermore, if Congress will publicly question the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Justice Department in public hearings broadcast on television then we see no argument against having Few answer questions about controversies already in the public domain while doing so in a public forum.

The council should ask questions in public, and Few should answer them in public. Anything less than this is taking the easy way out.

With that in mind, we think it is important to capture a few rational thoughts about the man who would be chief.

First, we have read on DemopolisLive.com and heard from other community members that Capt. Tommy Tate was a better choice because &8212; among other things &8212; he is local. Absolutely not. Tate being local and Few being from out of town should have nothing to do with the decision. The board should make their decision based on their perception of the qualifications and character.

As to character, this will come down to a judgement call. The three major controversies in Few&8217;s past &8212; a grand jury investigation into his work as fire chief of Augusta, Ga.; his resigning as fire chief from Washington, D.C. following allegations he falsified his resume; and claims that he filed homestead exemption outside the district he was running to serve as mayor &8212; are tainted with politics. In all three cases, Few could &8212; and has in the past &8212; made good arguments that he has been the victim of dirty politics. In some cases, he has argued, it has been about race.

Still, one has to acknowledge that in every high-profile position in which Few has found himself, he has brought about controversy. We don&8217;t buy claims that this comes with being a strong, black leader, as Councilman Thomas Moore has said. Too many strong, black leaders have been far more successful than Few despite the controversies like those surrounding the new chief.

It comes down to whether or not Few is a lightening rod for controversy because he stirs things up. The three controversies listed above are only the biggest. The fire fighters union in D.C. gave him a vote of no confidence, he came under fire for declaring pregnant fire fighters could not serve on the force and he has been accused of being racially divisive in the mayoral race.

That&8217;s a lot of controversy, and our city council needs to consider it carefully.

One last note to those who will say race is a factor. We urge you to use caution here. It is easy to play on race when the person under fire is black and the alternative choice &8212; in this case Tate &8212; is white.

But remember, the City of Demopolis has a black Director of Public Safety. We have had a black fire chief. We have well-respected, well-known African Americans serving on the city council, county commission and school board.

This is not about race. This is about a man&8217;s record as a public servant in other cities and the decision by the Personnel Committee to hide that record from the rest of the council.

We hope all is resolved soon. Because the ones who suffer most are the men and women who are charged with putting themselves in harm&8217;s way to protect our city. They need a fire chief, and they don&8217;t need this controversy.