Public needs to hear Fews side of story

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A part of me wants to write that we all need to come together and stand behind our new fire chief. Another part of me questions how a citizenry can do so when they have been denied the answers to some extremely damning questions.

For the sake of the fire department and the men who serve it, we should line up behind our new chief and support him in his efforts to lead our department. In the end, we should all want Ronnie Few to be successful, because we all want our department to be successful.

And anyone who wishes Few to fail is a hypocrite when they say they want what is best for the city. For Few is our chief, and if he succeeds then our fire department will be better for it.

After all, someone chosen to serve in cities the size of Augusta, Ga., and Washington, D.C., does not make it to such positions of leadership without some experience and talent.

Furthermore, if the problems that plagued Few in these stops along his career path are truly the product of dirty politics, then perhaps Few can escape such triviality and get to the work of building a better fire department.

Or, if he indeed had shortcomings in the past, perhaps he has grown, moved forward and is ready to lead.

All that said, I see no way for our city to move forward with questions still lingering about Few&8217;s past controversies.

Sure, we can point the finger at people demanding answers and say, &8220;That&8217;s their fault if they cannot move on. Few is our chief, deal with it.&8221;

But that&8217;s just crap, plain and simple. Many of these citizens just want to know what the heck happened in Washington and Georgia.

Too, how can we expect our fire fighters to respect a chief who hides from the public he serves?

Few did not show up at the meeting Tuesday night. Councilmen did not have the opportunity to ask him questions in that forum. They had to rely on information from newspapers, the Internet and Public Safety Director Jeff Manuel.

Neither has Few returned our numerous calls. We know he has received them. We have called him at his hotel, on his cell phone and at the fire department. We have left messages and voice mails. We have spoken to him once, when he told us that he was at a doctor&8217;s appointment.

As it stands right now, I&8217;m not sure he wasn&8217;t lying to us about that, because it was less than an hour later he was seen riding around town with Capt. Tommy Tate. But we can&8217;t ask him about it, because he remains allusive.

If Few wants the respect of his men and the respect of the citizens he serves &8212; and he does serve the citizens &8212; then he should step up and publicly address the past controversies.

In our reporting, we have been careful to use Few&8217;s past explanations for his controversies. We have used reports from other newspapers and official correspondence that are catalogued on the Internet.

In fact, our biggest beef has been with the Personnel Committee, who failed miserably in their role. They should have informed the entire council of Few&8217;s past controversies. To allow the stories to come out as they did &8212; through forums on DemopolisLive and in The Demopolis Times &8212; was completely unprofessional.

I&8217;ve racked my brain as to why Mayor Cecil P. Williamson and Councilmen Thomas Moore and Melvin Yelverton would have done such a stupid thing. I refuse to believe they were so naive as to think that people would not have found out about Few.

Then, I went with arrogance. As both a political columnist and a political operative, I cease to be amazed at the unfettered arrogance of some politicians. In my mind, I could live with the arrogance idea, though I didn&8217;t completely buy it.

Then, as I sat in that meeting last night, a third option came to mind. This option, if it is true, would be a genius of a move if you were a Few supporter who was dead-set on hiring him.

By not revealing the past controversies and presenting a man with nothing but impeccable credentials, you run little risk of having questions raised in a public forum &8212; where, by law, they would have had to have been raised. All job interviews are public.

In such a scenario, if the candidate was hired &8212; as was Few &8212; and the claims came out after he became a city employee &8212; as was the case here &8212; then such discussions could be held behind closed doors under the protection of the Good Name and Character clause of the Alabama Open Meetings Act. That, my friends, is what took place last night.

It sounds too much like a conspiracy theory to me, but it still holds water.

Other oddities surround this whole thing as well. For instance, when our reporter, Kelli Hilyer, spelled back Few&8217;s name to the mayor as S-E-W, the mayor did not correct her &8212; either of the two times. It could just be that Kelli misunderstood the mayor spelling F-E-W as S-E-W and the mayor misunderstood Kelli spelling S-E-W as F-E-W. In all honesty, &8220;S&8221; and &8220;F&8221; can sound the same. But that many times?

Too, we do not understand why the mayor would not release contact information for the chief, even before the controversies arose. Weeks ago we started asking for contact information. We wanted to interview him, get his background.

Finally, after the mess hit the fan, the mayor instructed us to call City Hall and get the information from City Clerk Paula Byrd, that she would have it. The only thing, Byrd said she had no contact information for Few.

In my opinion, the Personnel Committee is to blame for what has transpired over the past five days. Few, however, is not helping himself any by hiding.

Chief, I ask that you sit down and talk with us, explain your side of the story and then give your vision for the Demopolis Fire Department.

You are our chief, and I, as publisher of this newspaper, want to support you.

As of right now, though, I have too many unanswered questions.

Sam R. Hall is editor and publisher of The Times. He can be reached by e-mail to sam.hall@demopolistimes.com.