Originally created 12/13/01

Fire chief faces inquiry in Washington

Washington, D.C., Fire Chief Ronnie Few is under scrutiny for the same consultant connections and personnel decisions that triggered a special grand jury investigation when he was fire chief in Augusta.

The Washington Office of Campaign Finance has begun an internal inquiry into Chief Few's ties to Carl Holmes, for whom Chief Few worked as a volunteer instructor before hiring Mr. Holmes as a consultant for the District, said Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery, the director of the campaign finance office.

On Wednesday, Chief Few was called before a Washington City Council committee to answer questions about his hiring and promotion practices, said Penny Pagano, the chief of staff for Washington Councilwoman Kathy Patterson.

Ms. Patterson was chairwoman of the judiciary oversight committee that questioned Chief Few about his filling three of the fire department's top jobs with former colleagues from the fire department in East Point, Ga.

Chief Few defended his decisions to hire Gary Garland, the assistant chief of services; Bruce Cowan, the deputy chief of fire prevention; and Marcus Anderson, the assistant chief of emergency medical services, Ms. Pagano said.

Mr. Holmes, who is semiretired and the sole employee of Carl Holmes Executive Development Institute, has billed the city of Washington $23,500 under three no-bid contracts.

Washington disclosure laws require city officials to declare their affiliations with city contractors and payments from contractors of more than $100.

Chief Few said he was not aware of the city's disclosure laws, according to The Washington Times.

Chief Few has said he was an unpaid instructor for Mr. Holmes, 75, but there are other ties between the two. Chief Few was named Fire Chief of the Year by Mr. Holmes' institute in 1998.

"If we determine a possible violation of a statute that is subject to the jurisdiction of this office, then we will initiate an investigation," Mrs. Collier-Montgomery said.

The campaign finance office, an independent government agency within the Washington Board of Elections and Ethics, began the inquiry after The Washington Times reported the no-bid contracts and relationship between Chief Few and Mr. Holmes on Monday.

Mrs. Collier-Montgomery denied Chief Few is already under investigation as reported earlier by the Times.

In Augusta, Chief Few hired Mr. Holmes to conduct team building training sessions with no bids in 1999 and last year because bids are not required when seeking professional services, according to city policy.

The bills were paid from the fire department's training account despite the private grumblings of some city officials and firefighters.

Mr. Holmes was paid $6,000 a week and expenses each year for conducting the training sessions, according to Augusta financial records.

Last year, the city paid $416.83 to the Partridge Inn for six nights' lodging for Mr. Holmes, according to the records. The expense records for 1999 were not complete because some were seized by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Sept. 20, 2000, and turned over to the Richmond County special grand jury, which was investigating Chief Few and his department, city officials said.

The grand jury, empaneled almost two years ago, has issued interim reports on various aspects of city government, but nothing about the fire department since the records was seized.

GBI agents were digging to find evidence of "theft by conversion" and "false statements and writings ... with matters within the jurisdiction of state and political subdivisions," according to the search warrant.

Chief Few left Augusta during the summer of 2000 to become chief in Washington.

Contacted by The Augusta Chronicle on Tuesday, a spokesman from Chief Few's office said the fire department was prohibited from issuing any comment on an ongoing investigation.

Chief Few has been criticized by the Washington Firefighters Association, which gave him a vote of no confidence in October.

Staff Writer Heidi Coryell Williams contributed to this article.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.


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