Originally created 07/09/02

Grand Jury report



Introduction


The Special Grand Jury of Richmond County, in performing its appointed duties of examining governmental operations, formed an investigative committee to study the Fire Service (called the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department in the consolidated government). The Fire Department, performing a vital and sometimes dangerous service with hundreds of employees, expensive equipment and an extensive budget, required a comprehensive inquiry.

The goal of the committee was to evaluate the Fire Department at several levels such as management, leadership and efficiency versus waste (both in terms of human resources and capital equipment, as well as its nearly $14 million budget). We looked at all aspects of fire suppression, training, staffing, the conditions of fire stations and the status of all equipment. The committee also studied morale issues such as pay, promotions and fair and consistent application of policy and procedures. Accomplishing this goal required the achievement of several objectives. The committee decided to educate ourselves fully. We interviewed more than one hundred witnesses for hundreds of hours. Everyone with a rank of "chief" testified: Chief, Deputy Chiefs, Assistant Chief, Chief of Training, Chief of the Fire Prevention Bureau and all twelve Battalion Chiefs. The committee also interviewed captains, lieutenants, sergeants, firefighters and rookies.

The committee then went on to interview commissioners and the employees and managers of at least six other county departments. We studied reports and did field visits to several engine companies. We also spoke informally with firefighters and staff in every type of role. We attended meetings, training sessions, minimum standards, ceremonies and active fires. We poured over budgets, expense reports, phone bills, checking account information, personnel records, billing reports, purchase orders, letters and intra-office and inter-departmental memos. The committee attended meetings of the Personnel Board and interviewed many of its members. Knowing the scrutiny would be intense, we spoke to employees past and present. We consulted with state, regional and national fire experts. We spoke to vendors and organizations that dealt with or presently deal with Augusta–Richmond County Fire/Rescue. Two committee members went to Forsythe, Georgia, to the Georgia Fire Academy and to the Bureau of Standards, as we wished to find what was available in terms of training. We also established how our Fire Service is viewed throughout the state and how it measured up in terms of state and national standards.

The committee listened to 911 tapes from the two Rivercreek Apartment fires as well as other 911 tapes. Committee members attended local sessions conducted by fire department consultant Dr. Carl Holmes. We viewed tapes of an Executive Development Institute graduation, taped excerpts from the 1998 Georgia Joint Conference, 1999 Media Phoenix Awards and taped excerpts from the 2000 Southeastern Fire Chiefs Conference in Augusta. We watched training tapes, looked at resumes and examined employee files. We also studied the history of policies and procedures and the standard operating procedures of the former city and the former county. In addition to all of this, we studied the consolidation process and how it affected the firemen. This historical review gave us an insight into how the Fire Service arrived at its present condition.


History


Efficient functioning is the mission of all municipalities and good government and should be the vision of ethical citizens. The honest, clear thinking politician who represents the community well creates a government of quality. Consolidation was considered a way to improve overall services while lowering costs. From the outset, all understood that consolidation would be, in the short term, more expensive and inefficient as two governments with two sets of employees and their differing philosophies were merged. The consolidated Fire Service would one day be leaner and meaner, but only if the leaders met the challenge in those trying times. The Fire Service is important precisely because it is a prototype of what has been flawed in the consolidation process. The weaknesses of our present system, the now apparent deficits of the original consolidation bill and the current shortsighted attitudes of certain county officials, all exist within the present consolidated Fire Service.

The Fire Service, probably more than most government departments, is influenced by its colorful past. From the Irish mill workers of the 19th century, through the days of the Cracker Party, and on up to today, an array of sub-groups have struggled for control within the department. The 1996 consolidation of the two services was, in fact, not a merger but a takeover of the county department by the city department. The county service, whatever the relative strengths of its personnel, organization and leaders, was never consulted in forming the new organization. For that and other reasons, the first year of consolidation was even more difficult than anyone anticipated. It was even chaotic at times: two philosophies, two histories, two pay systems and two unique schedules.

The putative consolidation of the two departments fell to Bill Maddox, chief of the former city fire department and, per the consolidation bill, the designated chief of the consolidated Fire Service. He immediately abolished the policy and procedures of the old county fire department (which were fair and detailed), and he replaced them with "36 rules," the 36th of which said that Chief Maddox was arbiter ultimate. He could re-interpret or cancel any rule as he saw fit. This was a very bad idea for the new fire department - there was now no formal consistency. The policies could be changed depending on the situation or the whim of one person. This was not fair and that style of management continued whenever former city firemen were placed in positions of authority.

In the latter part of 1996, Chief Maddox took advantage of a generous (and possibly illegal) retirement package. This offer was given to Chief Maddox and seven other long-tenured employees of the pre-consolidated governments. These employees each received a one-time $25,000.00 pay out and given close to 100% of their salary as their retirement benefit. The alleged reason for this inducement was to streamline the consolidated government. Since they were department head level employees, most were replaced and no savings were realized. Meanwhile, money was taken out of the general fund to make the $25,000.00 payouts while the excessive benefits compromised the trust fund itself. This was a questionable and even unethical maneuver.

By 1997, the new department was still not adequately combined. There was a void that awaited the choice of a new leader. It was a situation that begged for leadership, efficient management and a solid commitment to the men and women of Augusta-Richmond County Fire/Rescue as well as the citizens they protect. The atmosphere for hiring the new chief was politically charged. Various cadres tried to position their candidate at the forefront. Chief Maddox (along with certain elected officials) was sponsoring Dennis Adkins, the department training chief and de facto second in charge. The head of the local firefighters union, then Lt. Buddy Spivey, in testimony, was strongly anti-Maddox and wanted to replace the good ole' boy network which he felt Adkins represented. In looking for someone to support, the union encouraged Ronnie Few to apply. Because the position was widely believed throughout the fire industry to be Chief Adkins’ for the taking, the pool of chief candidates was shallow in terms of quantity and quality. County Administrator Randy Oliver described the overall applicant group as "poor." Out of this intense and sometimes nasty struggle between two factions, Ronnie Few emerged as the new chief.

When the commission chose Ronnie Few, it can be said fairly that members of the fire department looked at the hiring as a breath of fresh air. The employees felt hopeful, especially when they heard his motto, "I don’t know you and I don’t owe you." Even Chief Adkins felt that Chief Few would be a good leader for the Fire Service. Chief Few started his new job with a balance of goodwill. Witness after witness testified that they were optimistic about the leadership that Chief Few would provide. Unfortunately, problems developed early.


Other People's Money


A Step of Faith

In his signed employment agreement, Few was allowed up to $10,000.00 for moving expenses to Augusta. His use of these designated funds became a protracted episode. The events are as follows:

  1. Chief Few was issued $4,000.00 to cover costs that were approved by the county administrator.
  2. On August 5, 1997, Chief Few asked for $6,530.00 to pay Step of Faith Movers for moving services. Chief Few was then issued a check payable to Step of Faith Movers.
  3. Chief Few returned the check issued to Step of Faith Movers. He then asked that a check for $6,530.00 be issued in his name, claiming he had already paid the expense himself.
  4. When Chief Few received his check from the county Finance Department, he was instructed to provide, per county policy, his cancelled check to Step of Faith Movers. Chief Few agreed to provide his check as documentation.
  5. Over the next five months, Finance made repeated requests for the cancelled check and Chief Few readily agreed to comply.
  6. On January 6, 1998, the County Administrator was informed by Finance that a cancelled check was still not forthcoming and, therefore, Chief Few’s Federal W-2 Form would be adjusted to reflect the $6,530.00 as wages.
  7. At this point, the Chief remembered that he actually paid the vendor in cash and did not, in fact, have a cancelled check.
  8. At this time, Chief Few produced receipts that were vague and inadequate. Finally, a detailed receipt was produced to Finance that included Step of Faith Mover’s letterhead and a signature alleged to be the owner’s. The receipt also stated that Chief Few paid $6,530.00, in cash, to have 28,000 lbs. (14 tons) of possessions moved to Augusta.

As authorities began to investigate these matters, the County Attorney made it known that certain commissioners had instructed him to inform Chief Few that he could use the $10,000.00 for whatever he chose. Therefore, receipts were not necessary to receive reimbursement. In effect, these commissioners had given $10,000.00 of taxpayer money as a signing bonus to Chief Few. When questioned by the Special Grand Jury (SGJ), the County Attorney would not name these commissioners, citing attorney-client privilege. It should be noted that in his final appearance before the Grand Jury on June 15, 2000, Chief Few finally recalled that his wife created the final receipt and signed the owner’s name. Chief Few claimed that this was done with the owner’s knowledge and consent. (Appendix A)


"Buried" Treasure

The SGJ’s first experience of the functioning of the government and the Fire Service also involved a check. We were informed that the department had sold an aerial ladder truck in mid to late 1999. Questions had been raised regarding the procedures used in selling the vehicle and the whereabouts of the proceeds of the sale. In late January 2000, the SGJ questioned Fleet Management and the county Finance Department. We discovered that no monies had ever been turned over from the Fire Department from the sale nor could Finance or Fleet Management figure out what happened with the money. With further investigation, the SGJ finally discovered the whereabouts of what turned out to be two checks from the sale: they were in a drawer at Fire Administration.

The SGJ found a check for $10,000.00 and another for $195,000.00. The $10,000.00 check was dated September 1999 and the $195,000.00 was dated November 1999 (the $10,000.00 was the holding deposit and the $195,000 was the balance of the sale). Upon further investigation, the SGJ was told that Chief Few decided that the checks should be put in the drawer until, " . . . we figure out what to do with them." The Committee was stunned to learn that there was also a third check in the drawer for $31,425.00. This was for the sale of other fire equipment and was dated December 16, 1999. (Appendix B)


There are obvious questions. Why did the Fire Department hide the checks? Why had they not been promptly turned over for deposit? (They were finally turned over to Finance and deposited February 21, 2000 because of SGJ scrutiny.) Also, Fire Department personnel directly received funds, for unknown reasons, from an equipment sale. In turn, they did not turn the checks over to Accounting per proper procedures. One of the excuses the department gave to the SGJ for holding the check was a problem with finding the title to the aerial truck, but the sale was finalized by January 10, 2000. No explanation was ever given as to why the monies were kept hidden from Accounting. The county lost between $3,000.00 and $5,000.00 in interest when the checks were not turned over to the county in a timely manner. (Appendix B-6)


The Fire Service itself did not acknowledge the existence of the checks until the SGJ began inquiring about them. The Fire Department never informed Finance of the $31,425.00 sale of equipment, let alone that they had a check. After several inquiries by the Committee, the Fire Service turned over the checks on February 21, 2000. Considering the totality of questionable financial issues, as it developed throughout this presentment, the SGJ was greatly concerned about the absence of a satisfactory explanation for the failure to follow procedure in handling county funds.


Pay Raises and Evaluations


Raising a county employee’s pay is pretty straightforward. A.) The employee receives a raise based on inflation/cost of living and how much the County can afford. B.) The employee is given a raise based on "merit" and the ability of the budget to reward good work performance. How does the County know an employee has performed his duties well? It is based on the supervisor’s yearly evaluation. This should be simple and reasonably objective. In the hands of Chief Few, pay raises became complicated with adverse consequences to morale.

In 1997, pay raises, when analyzed, seem related generally to performance evaluations (Chief Few arrived in March 1997 and had no impact on raises). In 1998, there were issues with the pay raises that began to cause controversy. By 1998, Chief Few had added two administrative assistants who received 10% and 5% raises, respectively. Chief Few attempted to give Deputy Chief Scott a 20% raise, but was constrained by the County Administrator to give only the 10% maximum raise allowed. For others in 1998, unless you received a promotion, you received only a cost of living and merit raise that may have roughly equaled inflation. Meanwhile, Chief Few was adding to his immediate staff (a Public Information Officer, a personal driver and various administrative assistants). Soon it became difficult for anyone to recognize a relationship between performance and pay increases. Example: a 9.9 merit rating - out of 10 - received a 1.5% pay raise; a 5.97 merit rating received a .5% pay raise. The employees became disgruntled. The battalion chiefs especially complained. They had been promised they would be rewarded for participating in the public relation programs created by Chief Few. These distractions had greatly added to their normal workloads. The lower ranks were also evaluated on their participation in these extra PR efforts, but they too saw none of the promised financial benefits. In contrast, after a year on the job, Chief Few received a 14% pay raise from the County Commissioners.

The discontent began to boil over with the 1999 evaluations and pay raises. Firefighters were expecting their merit raises to reflect their evaluation scores. The battalion chiefs, who had complained vociferously in 1998, expected the same. Each battalion chief received a 2.50% merit increase while the most any rank below BC received was a 1.25% merit raise (and ranged downwards to 1.00%, .5% and zero). Some firefighters received higher evaluations than most battalion chiefs, but it was not reflected in their merit increases.

When the 1999 merit increases for administrative assistants, public information officer, a 911 supervisor and deputy chiefs were examined, many inside and outside the department wondered if special consideration was a factor. The 911 supervisor received a 9.21 evaluation but a 2.75% merit increase. It was a larger pay raise than any of the 12 battalion chiefs received, all of who had higher merit ratings (as did many firefighters). The administrative assistant who was responsible for driving the chief (and who described himself as an "office gofer") received a 9.20 evaluation and a 6.18% increase. It was a merit increase inexplicably higher than those received by others with higher evaluations. Other administrative assistants received 9.0 and 9.3 evaluations and got 3.25% merit increases. The Deputy Chief of Operations received a 9.6 evaluation and a 10% merit increase after getting a 10% raise the year before. The other deputy chief received a 9.7 evaluation and was given only a 4% increase. The Fire Marshal received an 8.26 evaluation and a 2.50% increase. The chief training officer received a 9.38 evaluation and a 10% increase.

What offends in these raises is not the patronage perpetrated by Chief Few on the department, but that combat firemen were getting disregarded in terms of good evaluations versus merit increases. This injustice to the ones risking their lives brought the scrutiny from the press and the regular grand jury. Apparently, Chief Few felt compelled to go out to the firefighters to justify the pay raises, including the most baffling, that of the Public Information Officer.

The Public Information Officer (PIO) has always been a contentious position. The starting salary for the position was controversial (which we will explain later), as were attempts to raise that salary by other means. In 1999, the PIO, Katrice Bryant, received a 9.8 evaluation and a 10% merit increase. Firefighters getting higher evaluations received miniscule merit raises. To settle the unrest, Chief Few held a series of chats with the firefighters to discuss the salary issue. During one meeting held at Station #5, which multiple companies attended, Chief Few gave one of his most impassioned pleas. He appealed to the firefighters that Ms. Bryant had spent a lot of time, effort and money for her education and therefore needed these raises to pay her bills. Needless to say, firefighters risking their lives (many with families to support) were less than mollified. Chief Few’s merit raises ceased to have anything to do with merit.



While many of Chief Few's decisions caused distrust, none damaged his credibility with the firefighters more than his handling of the salaries. So inflamed were the men on this issue, the interim leadership installed a more objective merit raise scale in 2000. To recall the 1999 Grand Jury report, the pay raises under Few had much more to do with proximity and cronyism than with merit.


Promotions


Assessing the Situation

The Fire Service has a "ranked" structure: firefighter (I&II), sergeant (also called "driver" or "engineer"), lieutenant, captain, battalion and division chiefs, deputy chiefs and the overall chief. How individuals progress up through the ranks has always been a source of controversy and agitation. One of the prominent planks in Chief Few’s platform upon arrival was inserting "fairness" into the promotional procedure. He introduced to Augusta the assessment process. Evaluating someone for promotion included a written exam and then the working of an exercise to be judged by neutral assessors. The supposition is that neutral assessors, from outside, would remove politics from the promotional process. However, Chief Few did not allow the neutral process to occur, as will now be discussed:

Chief Few hired a promotional consultant, Bob Mowles & Associates. Immediately, the neutrality was suspect because Mr. Mowles had worked with and for Chief Few’s mentor/employer, Carl Holmes. Also, with the Mowles bid, Few would bring in his own assessors, with whom he already had relationships, casting more doubts on the fairness of the proceedings. The County had to feed and lodge the assessors over and above the Mowles bid. These "neutral" friends were treated to generous meals that included things like steak, lobster and alcohol. This was unnecessarily extravagant. Eventually, Few had to reimburse some of the alcohol purchases out of his own pocket. With such friendly fraternizing, the assessors’ neutrality could be compromised. (Appendix C)


When questions arose about the objectivity of the process, people began to explore the situation, first the firefighters, then Human Resources and the Equal Employment Officer (EEO), and ultimately the Special Grand Jury (SGJ). The problem was that all evidence had been destroyed: the tests, the results and the scores. No one could verify the integrity of the process. Accusations of favoritism, foreknowledge of answers and manipulations of test scores linger to this day. Because of the destruction of materials, no one can vindicate the process.

Skipping Ranks

A major change that Few introduced to the promotional process, which haunts the department to this day, was the opportunity for individuals to skip ranks. Chief Few’s reasoning for allowing ranks to be jumped was that it increased the pool of candidates in each rank. For example, a firefighter could be promoted to lieutenant without ever having been a sergeant and responsible for driving and operating the pumper. Most importantly, captains were allowed to run for the two deputy chief positions, thus skipping the rank of battalion chief. This skipping of ranks places a person in a post supervising and training personnel holding positions that they themselves have never attained. This policy created foreseeable consequences by not establishing how a person functions at previous ranks before ascending to higher rank.

The most egregious example is the Deputy Chief of Operations, Carl Scott. He was promoted from Captain, directly supervising three men, to Deputy Chief. It would be a minor miracle for anyone to have the administrative skills to make this leap and Operations has suffered the last three years. The problems of Chief Scott will be discussed in full in a section devoted to him. As a result of his inexperience, problems erupted. For example, Scott would allow personalities to influence discipline and decisions often seemed unrelated to coherent policy. Also, depending upon the partiality toward an employee, the deputy chief could set aside the chain of command in an instant. Battalion chiefs puzzled at how a person could go directly to the chief without recrimination for violating the chain. Morale began to suffer. And since Scott had never been a battalion chief, he could not begin to understand the problems he caused the twelve chiefs he supervised.

Listing

Notwithstanding the unorthodox promotional process, the Fire Service should have stabilized. Rank gaps were filled, but after a while, attrition set in and more vacancies appeared in the ranks. After a promotional process, an organization should have a promotions list with eligible candidates ranked according to their assessment scores with the list being valid for a prescribed period of time. Regrettably, because the scores and rankings were immediately destroyed, the list was flawed, making the departmental list subjective. This list was then not made available to battalion chiefs, who were unable to fill vacancies with the best-qualified personnel. When the administration finally did use the list, it was for promotions made just before the list expired. This raised questions as to whether those chosen were actually the most deserving for promotion. This handling of the promotional process created unfortunate and needless fissures in morale.

With the promotional list expiring, a new promotional process should have taken place. Since this did not occur, positions that were vacant were not filled forcing lieutenants to fill in as captains, sergeants to fill in as lieutenants and so forth. Chief Scott then created a pay controversy. He raised the pay of one Lieutenant/acting-Captain to Captain’s pay. Only when threatened with action did he give the other acting-Captain equal treatment. Naturally, sergeants acting as lieutenants also expected interim pay. For reasons he could not explain, Scott declined their requests and began rotating people in and out of lieutenant positions to avoid any more complaints. Scott also summarily transferred a man who had been an acting-lieutenant for nearly a year when he filed a grievance on the issue. Scott typed the letter rejecting the appeal before he heard the grievance. Now, with Scott’s rotations, the Fire Service has firefighters supervising sergeants and battalion chiefs having to deal with the resulting continuity and discipline problems.

Bugle Bungle

Chief Few expounded often upon the fire department as a paramilitary organization. He declared that, because morale comes from the individual, none of his actions could impact Fire Service morale. One such action was to arbitrarily award chief bugles to the lieutenant supervising communications (Catherine "Kitty" Walker). This new "chief" also got a pay raise above lieutenant grade. When the county administrator questioned the move, Few stated that the "chief" was in fact a lieutenant, not a chief officer. She only attended staff meetings to represent her division. To the EEO, Chief Few said he bestowed the bugles "because in most fire departments, this position is held by a ranking officer" and "he did not want her to feel bad among her peers [at staff meetings]." (Appendix D)


The rank of chief in the fire culture has always symbolized eminence and years of hard work. For Few to elevate an individual by fiat diminishes the whole convention. Officers and the men alike were offended. To assuage the feelings of the 911 supervisor, he ignored the impact of his action on his people.

A promotional process should be fair and honest; the best people should rise in rank. Chief Few manipulated the process in a whimsical, personal manner. There is no discernible motive. Instead of "repairing" the process as he claimed he did, he made it more convoluted and less fair than before he arrived.


Staffing


The number of firefighters available to fight a fire plays a crucial role in whether a fire can be stopped or not. Industry standards, state and national, call for minimum staffing levels. They strongly recommend a minimum of three firefighters on pumper engines, four firefighters on aerial trucks and at least one on each tanker and air truck. These numbers are established for the safety of both the fire personnel and the public. The NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) states that, for the safety of the firefighters, any interior attack of a fire (entering a burning structure) must be done with no less than two firefighters. This "buddy system" enables the firefighters to protect each other, do "search and rescue" and get water to the source of the fire.

Staffing is a recurring problem in the Fire Department. The Special Grand Jury concurs with fire administration claims that the department is understaffed. The challenge in this environment is to manage the human assets effectively so as to ensure that the citizens are properly protected. Undermanned, fire administration still supported "extracurricular activities." The battalion chiefs always begin their shifts "directing traffic," fulfilling all of the social responsibilities while trying to find enough men to "put the wet stuff on the red stuff." The result is using two-man crews, closing stations and/or putting equipment out of service. Fire coverage, response times and performance at fire scenes are compromised.

The firefighters and officers want to do their best at fires, but become angered when they must fight fires with shorted crews. Off-duty firemen must be called in when numbers fall below certain thresholds. Training, normal leave requests and answering emergency calls put enough stress on the system as it is currently constructed. When you add festivals, camps, adopt-a-median and the like, the circumstances become unmanageable.

When "Call Backs" (calling off-duty men in to fill positions absent men) were first utilized, there was no standard operating procedure, no written policy and no guidance. The Special Grand Jury questioned Chief Scott about it and then a policy was put in place. The battalion chiefs in charge of Battalion One were responsible for getting the necessary manpower to the stations. With no policy in place, different shifts used different methods. Once the policy was written and put into the hands of the battalion chiefs, they had a clear and equitable system in place. The firefighters were asked to sign an overtime form stating if they did or did not want to be included on the overtime roster.

The overtime policy states, "A staffing level of seventy-one (71) personnel will be maintained each day, if possible, but not more than seven (7) firefighters per shift shall be authorized for overtime. Deputy Chiefs must be notified if more than seven (7) firefighters are required." It also states, "A refusal, no answer or contacting an answering machine will cause personnel to forfeit their turn until their opportunity to work cycles again." (Appendix E)


Under Few’s leadership, there were no callbacks and the county dealt with two-man crews, out of service vehicles and closed stations. Then, Interim Chief Scott did not utilize "Call Backs" until the middle of May 2001 and cancelled it early December 2001.

Staffing problems occur whenever training, a conference, a discipline issue or an "extracurricular" are added to the day’s schedule. The effects of these staffing problems will be illustrated throughout this report.


Extracurricular Activities


The public safety departments, such as fire and sheriff, need to maintain a good working relationship with the public. The Fire Department performs many non-emergency public services. The purpose of these services is two-fold. First, the Fire Department attends functions in order to meet the public outside the context of disasters. The second, and much more important activity, is educating the public regarding fire prevention. While the department’s main function is to put out fires, these other duties play a vital role in the department’s mission of protecting the public. Proper management of the department demands intelligent scheduling, balancing these duties with the work of suppressing fires. Public relations and education should yield to training and other public safety duties. Priorities must be set with the public’s safety coming first.

The SGJ discovered definite problems regarding the balancing of priorities. Too often the schedule became chaotic with public relations taking precedence over vital safety functions. As the schedule became more cluttered, basic firefighting essentials were being ignored and causing battalion chiefs and firefighters to become frustrated. Efficiency and morale suffered.


The following are examples of programs that illustrate the numerous directions the fire department was pulled.


Transit House

The transition house (transit house) is another of Chief Few’s creations that sounded good, but drained energy and resources with very little "bang for the buck." The concept of the transit house was to provide temporary lodging for those put out of their homes due to fire or smoke damage. The department would take property it already owned and construct this house with off duty firefighters volunteering their labor. A housing grant was obtained and the department would finance the project through various fundraising programs. This program, like several others, suffered from a lack of planning and foresight.

The need for the transit house was unclear to the SGJ because, for years, the Augusta Red Cross has sheltered those displaced by fire. With the help of other agencies, the victims of fire have been assisted in getting back on track. Helping victims is their mission and they have the programs and resources in place. The Fire Department has relied on these agencies because they are the experts. Still, when the county got into the business of housing victims, there were many questions that were never answered. For example, if multiple families are displaced at once, who uses the facility? What happens to the other families? How long can a family stay and how does the county deal with individuals who refuse to leave? What is the county’s liability if someone is hurt in our county home? Who’s going to run the home: oversee, clean and repair it? The questions are endless and, in the end, the biggest question is this: is there even a need for this program?

There were other problems. The project lacked professional direction. The craftsmen/firefighters, those experienced in construction and volunteering their time, were dismayed by the haphazard nature of the planning and construction. Several men voiced the belief that parts of the project did not conform to county building codes. There was no quality assurance and no one was able to keep the project moving.

Despite the lack of skilled guidance in terms of construction, there initially was no shortage of volunteers to build the house. Firefighters have a certain fraternity and, as we have said, Chief Few enjoyed the good will of the firefighters at the outset of his tenure. In this surge of skilled and unskilled volunteers, progress was made and the transit house took shape. Then, the project began to grind to a halt. One of the first blows was the 1998 and 1999 merit evaluations and pay raises. As documented at length in this and previous presentments, and in the local media, the largest pay raises went to those in closest proximity to Chief Few. After two years of this, the firemen were much less enthusiastic about participating in these projects. The firefighters had been promised that participation in these "community based" projects would reflect positively on their evaluations (there was even a section for this on the evaluation).

The men began to realize that there were many problems in working on these pet projects, especially if it involved the physical labor of construction. Chiefs Few and Scott had promised that if they were hurt on the site they would be "taken care of" (a fireman only receives his full pay if he’s injured at a fire scene - if he’s injured volunteering on county property during his off time, he does not even get Workmen’s Compensation). The men went behind the Chiefs, directly to Risk Management (secretly, for fear of violating "chain of command"), and found out that those promises had no basis in fact. Then, there was the question of county liability if a volunteer was injured on the site. (Appendix F)


Fire Administration became concerned that the transit house construction was floundering after much ado had been made publicly. On-duty, in-service companies were then sent to Ellis Street to work on the transit house, sometimes a good distance from their stations. This compromised their response times and, with the trains in Augusta, they can be delayed even further. The battalion chiefs were strongly encouraged by Chief Scott to work on the house and/or send their men. The battalion chiefs were told they would see "something extra" at the holidays. Something extra was never defined. Still, the project languished and, with conferences coming to town, it became increasingly important to finish the transit house.

Fire Administration felt the pressure. There was one unfortunate sergeant who had a particular skill that the house needed for its completion. Fearing an injury that would hurt his career and family, the sergeant decided not to work on the transit house. Chief Scott began to hound the man to volunteer his skills. The sergeant continued to decline. At this point, Chief Scott began to use his position as Deputy Chief to apply pressure. After one refusal, the sergeant was on duty and in charge of a fire station. Around suppertime, Chief Scott appeared unannounced and performed a surprise inspection. This was action unprecedented for Scott, one he had not done before or since. This came across as harassment to the employee. This sergeant was not the only one to be "encouraged" to volunteer his time and talents. Fire administration had publicized the transit house on the website and in the biannual report as one of their accomplishments. Therefore, Few shunted many resources to a project that was never completed in his three-year tenure.

Potpourri

The transit house was far from the only distraction for fire suppression. The firefighters were asked at different times to participate in Adopt-a-Curb, Adopt-a-School, R-U-OK?, four-man engine companies sent out of town to parades, an engine company sent to the opening of a ride at Six Flags, two teams to a Chili Cook-Off and an on-duty engine company putting the roof on a community center belonging to a church. Engine companies have even been sent to private birthday parties. By fire administration’s admission, staffing was a pervasive and serious problem in terms of safe fire suppression. Yet, there were constant strains put on staffing by bad management decisions that we will address later.

Besides misuse of resources and time, other issues include: response times being lengthened, the governmental liability of being on a non-emergency call at a private residence where children are allowed to climb on the pump. There was no thought given concerning possible injuries to firefighters or children and no evidence that Risk Management was aware of the circumstances.

Be Prepared

Public safety departments must always be prepared. As we have stated earlier, staffing has been a severe problem for the Fire Service in recent years. The Fire Service, under Chief Few, saw the Boy Scouts as a public organization worthy of special consideration. Chief Few served on the local Boy Scout Board. So with his blessing, firefighters were freed up to volunteer and work for the Scouts while on duty. This situation often put significant pressure on the battalion chiefs to maintain the staffing levels to provide suppression ability. The battalion chiefs were so concerned about closing stations due to short staffing that they even confronted Deputy Chief Scott. In one instance, when two battalion chiefs showed data to the Deputy Chief that the situation would seriously undermine their ability to fight fire, he informed them that we were a "community-based fire department" and to "make it happen." These types of instances dismay the Special Grand Jury. The Fire Department’s first priority is to fight fire. The ability to fight fire should never be compromised for any cause, regardless of how noble or grand.

Of particular interest was the role of the Boy Scout coordinator, filled at first by firefighter Webb Smith. The scout coordinator is a paid, contracted position with the Boy Scout Council with specified duties each week and throughout the year (Appendix JJJ). These duties included fundraising, record keeping and inventory, participating and directing scouting activities and working directly with community groups and government agencies. There were problems for this coordinator position even from the beginning. There was concern within the department about special treatment, specifically that Mr. Smith was being allowed to attend to his Boy Scout duties while on the fire department time and the County payroll. According to the 1997 Augusta-Richmond County Personnel policy manual (in effect at the time), "Outside employment shall not occur during the employee’s regular or assigned working hours unless the employee is on either vacation or compensatory leave." Besides this obvious policy violation, of particular concern to the committee, was how this time away contributed to the already short fire suppression staffing. The battalion chiefs are especially frustrated in these types of arrangements. It compromises their ability to adequately cover the County and morale among the ranks is adversely impacted. No one else in the department received similar privileges, i.e. working a part-time job while on duty.

Mr. Smith’s successor, firefighter Octavius Davis, continued the practice of conducting the coordinator’s responsibilities while on duty. These included conducting classes in schools and helping plan and staff weeklong camps, as well as attending some weekend jamborees. During the month-long camps and weekend jamborees, the firefighter would be gone for entire shifts, reporting directly to the scout camp rather than his shift at the fire station. The department did not require the employee to take vacation or leave while he was fulfilling his contractual obligations to the Boy Scouts. Tensions and criticisms were mounting and the Chief of Operations had to deal with the protest of his officers. Again, Chief Scott’s response to his subordinates was, "We are a community-based fire department, make it happen."

Faced with a controversial situation, Chief Scott’s solution was to transfer Davis to Station #19, the lowest running company, thus making it much easier to release him to serve the Scouts. So Chief Scott created a four-man pump company in an environment where three-man and the very dangerous two-man crews are the norm. It is bad enough that policy and procedure were disregarded with department managers’ blessing and encouragement, but to circumvent an issue in this manner was derelict. The transfer was made to make it easier for the employee to fulfill his outside obligations while on duty.

This transfer was not the only problem that Chief Scott fostered in attempting to ease the situation. The Fire Service considers itself a "paramilitary" organization with a sacrosanct "chain of command." Those in authority often demanded strict adherence to the chain, meting out strong discipline for any transgressions against this philosophy. Yet, in moments of convenience, the chain was often set aside. Such was the case in releasing Davis from his firefighting duties. It became absurd with Scout Coordinator Davis sending a memo directly to Deputy Chief Scott requesting excusing firefighter Davis to work for the Scouts, thus bypassing the officer of the station and the battalion chief. (Appendix G) Many in the department were puzzled as to why a firefighter was accorded the privilege of going around the chain of command.

These decisions only made the situation worse. Mr. Davis was contractually obligated and financially compensated to be at Scout camps and functions. When questioned by the SGJ about how this impacted his firefighter duties, his explanation was unique. Each week Mr. Davis was out, he would miss two to three twenty-four hour shifts. At no time was Mr. Davis required to use leave or vacation time per county policy. As Mr. Davis explained, on the days he was off duty for the Fire Service, he was fulfilling his coordinator contract. When his duty shift came around, he morphed into a "volunteer" for the Boy Scouts. When asked how he could be a volunteer every third day on projects he was contractually required to supervise, Mr. Davis responded, "We are a community-based fire service." Mr. Davis said that his superiors were volunteering his county-paid time as a service to our community. He stated that this distinction allowed him to remain within county policy. To recap, Mr. Davis was the scout coordinator for two days, then a volunteer the third day (this would go on for weeks). In essence, he was allowed to fulfill outside employment requirements on duty, get paid by the county every third day while fulfilling these duties, miss numerous shifts while "volunteering" and, at no time, was required to use his personal leave. In fact, fire administration encouraged these policy breaches. There’s a larger picture to all of this. Mr. Davis staffed these Scout activities with other on-duty firefighters. This caused critical staff shortages. Battalion chiefs voiced their concerns repeatedly. Fire administration knew of the shortages. Again, fire administration states, "Make it happen, we are a community-based fire department." The paramount mission of fire protection was disregarded and made secondary to public appearance on these occasions.


Risk, Working Conditions and the Frivolous Use of Resources


Unfair Practices

Public Safety, by its nature, is a dangerous business. Each time an engine company is "toned out," our employees are putting their health at risk. Firefighters have been injured on the fire ground by smoke inhalation, burns or slipping on wet surfaces. Also, within training, a firefighter often faces danger, even practicing simple elements from the fire scene, such as climbing a ladder. Beyond training, the combat fireman (unlike other county departments) is responsible for maintaining and cleaning his station. They mow the lawn, change light bulbs in engine bays and do other things like providing a new coat of paint. While these are historical duties for engine companies and saves money for the county, county policy changes have really ambushed the firefighters.

If a firefighter is injured en route to, from, or at a fire scene or EMS call, he is given salary continuation (full pay until he can return to work). If he is injured performing any of his other duties, the county only allows him to apply for Workmen’s Compensation. Law determines Workmen’s Compensation: two-thirds of the average weekly wage with a maximum amount of $375.00 per week. At one time, firemen were further penalized in the recent past when Human Resources made the administrative decision that someone injured on the job could no longer use sick leave. For instance, one firefighter was injured during a practice session in 1998. He had accrued, likely through a responsible use of sick leave, the maximum of 1,518 hours. He was forced into Workman’s Compensation.

The SGJ found this policy to be unjust and notes that Human Resources have since reversed it. Now, a firefighter injured in a non-emergency situation may use sick leave. Federal NFPA standards require only one timed training event: putting on quick hitches and air packs (quite logical). However, the Augusta department’s current training regimen, all tasks are timed, including such dangerous tasks as climbing a ladder. If a firefighter fails the timed event four times, termination is recommended. If he rushes dangerously through an event, which would never be done at a fire scene (an injured fireman can save no one) and becomes injured, his family is sloughed off on Workman’s Compensation. If an older fireman runs off into a heart attack or back injury, doing a job he never does at a fire scene, the department loses his experience and the family loses its breadwinner. This is hardly fair to our workers and unjust to their families.

Firehouses

A firefighter’s life is unique. Every third day they live in a firehouse with other people. They are expected to clean, cook, eat and live in close proximity for 24 hours. The stations are their home for that shift. The SGJ has toured stations, from the most recently built No. 5 to the historic No.7. There are certain problems that need addressing:

  1. Station # 1 The floor is sinking.
  2. Station #4 The tiled engine bay floor is cracked due to the weight of the engines. It needs a concrete runway for the 2-3 ton engine to reduce the wear and tear on the tile. Sliding down the traditional fire pole is no longer a safe alternative as the base of the pole is loose. A letter has been written stating these problems with no results thus far.
  3. Station #5 The newest station. There are cracks in the corners of the bay doors, half of the lights do not work, the roof leaks and water backs up in the showers during a hard rain.
  4. Station #6 The old county headquarters. Firefighters are sleeping on mattresses with springs poking through. Many choose to sleep in chairs in the day room or sleep on the floor causing some back pain, even injury.
  5. Station #7 Built 1913. A shower has leaked, with loud dripping, for five years. The engine bay’s arch in the rear cannot accommodate the engine assigned to the firehouse. The driver must back into the station each time instead of driving through as was the design.
  6. Station #8 Part of the roof tiles have been blown off and not replaced. Glass is missing in the door.
  7. Station #10 Cannot house newer, taller engines due to lower ceiling and doorways in the engine bays (one of the older county stations from the West Augusta/Suburban Fire Departments). Landlocked by other buildings and Washington Road traffic.
  8. Station #12 Roof leaks.
  9. Station #15 The "red-headed step child" of consolidation. The county knew this station would need to move once the lease expired. Nothing was done to secure a new location by the county or the consolidated government until facing lease expiration. The single-lane driveway washes out in a significant rain. The engine is "housed" in a metal arch barely wide enough for the engine. The driver must pull the engine out of the shelter before other personnel can get in. In a downpour, firefighters get wet before ever leaving the station. In winter, a tarp is draped over front and rear openings and a kerosene heater is used to prevent the pump from freezing and cracking. In the winter of 2000, the station was allowed to run out of kerosene when temperatures dropped below freezing for several days. To prevent costly losses to the county, the engine took refuge at No. #8 leaving that part of the county without its pumper (because the department was too disorganized to order adequate kerosene). This "dancing" compromises response times to fires. Living conditions, at this station, are unique. It is a three-bedroom, mobile home that must be evacuated during tornadoes and severe storm warnings. The kerosene heater is a possible fire hazard and a concern for Risk Management. The men are never sure if the engine will shift into pump gear. The day the SGJ visited, it had taken a sergeant five attempts before the pump gear engaged.
  10. Station #16 Only seven years old. Tile is separating in the kitchen. Began to experience problems within the first year of the building’s completion. Problems with stove hood.
  11. Station #19 Constant problems with ants, bugs, snakes and vermin. When the SGJ visited, ants had invaded the microwave and daylight was peeking through the cinderblock walls in the sleeping area. The men reportedly check their beds regularly for snakes. The wiring is a fire hazard and has smoked on occasion.

Equipment

Aerial Truck # 4 It is a 1956 model Ladder truck with several cracks in the ladder. The cracks are marked with arrows and known to Fire Administration. It has not been modernized with the necessary safety features and cannot pick itself up if it is at an angle. This truck is a risk management issue. When a lieutenant began writing about the safety issues of using this machine, he was promptly transferred out of #6 and reassigned to the pumper at #3. Shortly before publication of this report, Aerial Truck #4 was condemned.


Pierce Pumpers The Pierce Pumpers that Chief Few brought in have had numerous problems. The fancy drop down steps do not always drop down nor do they necessarily retract when they are supposed to. A firefighter has to wait for the driver to close his door then kick the stairs into the retracted position. Due to design, mirrors fall off on a regular basis. They are definitely an example of "style over substance."

Company Composition

Although the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) and ISO recommend a minimum of three personnel on a pump and four on a ladder truck, our stations routinely ride with only two on pumpers and three on ladder trucks. On the pump, "two" means that there is only one person to do search-and-rescue while getting water on the fire. The driver runs the instrument panel of the water pump. When a pumper has to hook up to a hydrant (almost always), the first man must stay at the hydrant until the hose is connected and water is flowing to the engine. No one is left to do search and rescue or get water on the flames.

The aforementioned decisions represent poor administration. This presentment is replete with examples of silly management. Chief Few once sent a new fire engine, with a four-man crew, to Six Flags in Atlanta for the opening of new ride. Had we been closer to Atlanta, this might have been an acceptable public relations ploy for the county. As it was, no one in the county had any idea that Few had done this. The blatant disregard for county resources only compounded the situation. Added to the loss of four men for a day and the money used for gas, the machine broke down on the way home. There was no benefit whatsoever to the City of Augusta and was only an opportunity for Chief Few to showcase equipment and personnel to metro Atlanta departments.

Light Duty

As noted throughout this presentment, administration and management have been chaotic and haphazard. The Fire Department has had several firefighters that have been often in and out due to physical problems. It was impossible for the SGJ to discern why one individual was made to take Workman’s Compensation and another was put on light duty ad infinitum. Some are given salary continuation while others are pushed into Workmen’s Compensation. Even members of administration are hard pressed to explain their policy as to why some have been favored for so long. When the SGJ began to delve into the issue, Chief Scott finally pushed some of the worst offenders off of active duty. Even with that, or maybe because of it, one man who had been on light duty for several months was placed back on active duty, worked a few weeks, hurt himself on a fire scene and went back to light duty. Chief Scott did not have a coherent policy to deal with this situation.

The SGJ strongly suggests that the Fire Department come up with stringent and consistent criteria for placing personnel on light duty. It should not be used as a favor for the special few. There are cost effective ways to deal with this predicament. A "Fit for Duty" physical, performed by a contracted physician, tests individuals according to the requirements and demands of their individual job responsibilities. Funded by Human Resources, this should be required for anyone out two weeks or more with a physical problem.


Hydrant Testing


Water is critical to fighting fires and properly working hydrants are crucial to stopping fires. The intent of testing fire hydrants is to ensure their ability to function when called upon. This task became, in the hands of the Few regime, a complicated muddle heavy in fluff. Prior to consolidation, county hydrants were checked twice a year. In the fall, each plug would be cracked and checked for a trickle of water. In the fall and spring, check caps were greased, hydrants were painted, as needed, and debris or overgrowth was removed. A hydrant could be checked in two to three minutes. Old city hydrants were checked and maintained once a year at the discretion of the company captain.

In 1998, Chief Few introduced a new method of hydrant testing which he brought from East Point. The new method required new equipment. The county purchased 19 Diffusers, 19 Static Cap Gauges and, at least, 100 "Out of Service" hydrant disks and charged the $15,667.84 cost to the Water Department. (Appendix K) The new method of testing was elaborate. The firefighter opens the cap, attaches the Diffuser and lets the water flow for several minutes. While this hydrant is flowing, the next hydrant on the main is checked for static pressure using a Static Cap Gauge. This new method was to be done in the spring and the fall.

Because of the various tasks they now perform, the Fire Service has been swamped over the last few years. Administration has always been its Achilles Heel. Carl Scott, Deputy Chief of Operations, was in charge of implementing the new hydrant testing. Manuals and an instructional video were provided to the firefighters. By the time these got to the firefighters, the instructions had changed. The defunct video also gave no instruction on using the static cap gauge or how to coordinate the procedure between two hydrants.

The first problem was that there was only one portable radio available for communication between the two hydrants. A firefighter nearest the engine had to run back and forth from the hydrant to the engine to communicate with the firefighter at the second hydrant.

The process then became time consuming. Meanwhile, the water was flowing, usually for at least five minutes. On a "good" hydrant with adequate pressure, at least 2500 gallons of water ended up in the storm drain. The testing was completed with caps greased, debris removed and painting done. The hydrant was tested for static pressure and the entire procedure took anywhere from ten to twenty minutes per hydrant.

There was more confusion. The manuals gave no details on how to report problems and the companies routinely lacked clear, consistent information on testing procedures or what companies needed to test on what day and in which areas. There was also inadequate notification of affected businesses. Communication/coordination with the Water Department was poor with conflicting and changing information. At first, companies were told to notify dispatch of every problem hydrant and dispatch would notify the Water Department. This clogged radio communication, blocking emergency contact, and tied up the 911 dispatchers. The confusion dragged on throughout the first season of the new and improved hydrant testing and into 1999. Corrected information and procedures changed from shift to shift, wasting man-hours and water. Battalion chiefs were receiving clashing instructions as to use of radios, notification plans and what areas needed testing when. It became so confusing that Chiefs resorted to writing down all the instructions given to them before passing that information on to the next shift (for fear they would be held responsible for reporting false information).

There was also poor coordination between Chief Scott and the Water Department, especially as to what areas were being tested on a given day. More than once, the Water Department was caught off guard when multiple hydrants, being tested, caused water pressure to drop in a given area. Public notice was haphazard and engine companies were poorly coordinated. By the spring of 2000, the program was given over to the Chief of Special Operations, Howard Willis.

Special Operations reorganized the program’s elements. The necessary reporting documents and procedures were generated and clear lines of communication were established. The radio was only used for notification of major problems that occurred during testing (such as a broken valve or a break in a water main). Other problems were to be noted, an "out of service" disk placed on the hydrant and the information turned into the company officer by 5:00 p.m. This information was faxed to Chief Willis and the company’s battalion chief. Willis compiled a list of out-of-service hydrants and faxed this list to the Water Department and Chief Scott. As a system check, the battalion chiefs would also fax information to the Water Department. (Appendix L) Finally, the information about each hydrant was turned over to Special Operations and entered into a computer program as historical data.

Each week, Special Operations would contact the Water Department, pick up disks from repaired hydrants and receive a list of repairs done. They would then notify the Engine Company of the repairs in order for them to verify that the hydrant was back in service. Verified repairs would be added back into the historical database. To improve public notice, a list was put out each week of areas to be tested allowing the Water Department to prepare for possible problems. The Public Information Officer could publish streets affected by testing the following week. (Appendix M) Engine companies could then notify water-sensitive companies, such as Kendall or a dialysis clinic.

Benefits of Hydrant Testing

There are benefits to hydrant testing. Problems are identified and hydrants repaired or replaced. Flow testing the hydrants flushes the system clear. The information gathered through Flow Testing has identified areas with low pressure. In the National Hills area, testing data substantiated what Water Works suspected and work is underway to convert a raw water line into a finished water line, providing better pressure. In the Olive Road area, data from hydrant testing indicated low water pressure. This pointed Water Works toward possible malfunctioning valves. Hydrant testing data will enable Water Works to begin working with models for the future growth of areas.

While there was resistance to the hydrant-testing plan in the beginning, mostly due to the lack of communication and coordination, opponents in Water Works are now seeing benefits of having the information provided. From the Fire Department’s side, the information gathered is helpful as well as familiarizing the firefighters with the locations and unique restrictions of each of the hydrants. However, the SGJ found that all departments agree that flow testing should only be done once a year.


Firefighter United Conference, November 1998


The State of Georgia does not recognize any public safety or governmental union. Men and women in public safety in Georgia may form associations, but Georgia municipalities do not participate in any collective bargaining with these associations. There are two primary firefighter associations active in Augusta. The first is Richmond County Professional Firefighters, Local #3357, and a chapter of the largest international firefighters union. The other is Firefighters United, Inc. (FFU), which is affiliated with the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters. Participation in these associations is voluntary. County policy prohibits the members of these respective organizations from conducting association activity while on-duty. Augusta-Richmond County does not in any way officially endorse these associations.

The County has been firm with Local #3357. Chief Few’s relationship with the Local was cordial, but the department has been vigilant in not allowing union activity on-duty. For example, the most recently elected union president received a letter from his superior explicitly reminding him that union activity will not be tolerated on county time. Still, there have been incidents where the clear line between the County and one of these associations' activity became blurred. One episode included an on-duty Engine Company attending an FFU meeting at Belle Terrace Community Center leaving a firefighter outside with the engine because he was a non-member (as one participant told the non-member, "Opie" has to stay outside). Unfortunately, Fire Administration had little reaction to this incident when it was discovered. This was an on-duty fire engine, away from its base, participating in a prohibited activity and the responsible firefighters were merely given verbal "slaps on the wrists."

A particularly chaotic example of mixing of county manpower and materials with association activities came with the FFU Southeastern Regional Conference of November 1998. As stated, the County must remain distinct from any employee association. With this 1998 Conference, the violations began with association memos being written on county letterhead by Chief Few, Chief Scott and the president of FFU. The memos were written to politicians and firefighters inviting them to the conference and asking for volunteers to serve. (Appendix H) The county EEO Officer, in an ensuing investigation, found these to be blatant violations of county policy, a de facto county endorsement of this employee association, yet no violation was ever punished.

Another major concern was the fire suppression staffing level during the conference. In June 1998, Chief Scott put out a memo to all of Operations explaining that all leave requests would be limited during the 1998 Joint Conference of the Georgia Firefighters and the Georgia Fire Chiefs as he felt that adequate fire coverage was of primary importance. (Appendix I) The November 1998 FFU Conference points out that these concerns were, at times, easily pushed aside. Throughout the FFU Conference, on-duty firemen left their stations with permission to attend the conference at a downtown location. Examination of duty sheets during the conference (November 5 through 8, 1998) uncovered many red flags. Specifically on November 6, 1998, thirteen on-duty men were designated as at the "conference," two more on-duty firefighters were at the conference as members of Fire Department Honor Guard and eighteen other men were off on various types of leave. Add the fireman who was away at training and the county had thirty-four personnel (approximately 42%) away from their duty stations leaving 47 firefighters to run 19 engine pumps, three aerial trucks, a service truck, an air truck and a tanker. The staffing situation was clearly mismanaged. The department should never allow fifteen on-duty men to attend a fraternal gathering, let alone while nineteen people were already off on various kinds of leave. One battalion chief was so embarrassed, regarding the schedule on another day of the conference, that he actually whited out the designations of staff attending FFU on the daily staffing report so "it would not look bad." (Appendix J)


The Special Grand Jury is concerned at the willful disregard by fire administration for county policy. The mismanagement of assigning staff was frightening. Allowing on-duty staff to attend a meeting not sponsored by the county fire department (although Chief Few did take credit for the conference in public statements and on his resume) was so problematic that a commissioner requested the EEO Officer to look into various complaints. Unfortunately, this was not the last problem of its kind perpetrated by this administration.


Carl Scott


We will now address the Deputy Chief of Operations, Carl Scott, and his performance throughout the Few tenure and since. The most succinct way for us to break it down is in the areas of leadership, competence and professionalism in regard to his management. As noted elsewhere, there is a style of leadership within the Fire Service, brought mostly from the old city, which is imperious in nature: a quickness to display anger that is "in your face," finger jabbing and humiliation through screaming and cursing. Intimidation is used because the environment tolerates such abuse; it covers up any insecurity and shortcomings. As deputy and then interim chief, Mr. Scott has succumbed to this temptation in many instances and, while interim chief, the bullying of clerical staff and veteran, respected officers increased significantly. Time constrains us from giving every illustration of his verbal browbeating and physical cowing, but examples and witnesses abound.

The lack of professionalism on the part of Chief Scott is disconcerting. One example of this is his handling of the county’s most veteran and experienced battalion chief. For several reasons, this man has not been in favor with Scott and he has badgered and hectored the chief often and on occasion publicly. Scott has called in the middle of working fires to ask the chief if he "can handle the situation." Scott has screamed at this chief over the phone and then called him down to administration, made him sit and wait, and then yelled at him some more (with subordinates and peers well aware of what was going on). The same chief once followed an explicit, Scott order about rotating men in charge. Scott later blamed this chief during a grievance process because he (Scott) was not willing to give a pay increase to some that were acting officers while he had arbitrarily raised the pay of others who were acting officers.

More unpleasant examples of unprofessionalism are two instances where Scott revealed the confidential medical information of two of his men in suppression. The first episode involved Scott discovering, in his official capacity as Chief of Operations, that one of the men was being tested for exposure to HIV while working as a part-time EMT. Not only did Scott fail to secure this information, but also he later became the source of rumors and was even observed joking about the situation with the guys down at headquarters. This is not an isolated example.

This next situation concerned a driver and his routine random drug screening. The employee had a known history of migraines and had listed his prescribed medicines before the drug screen. When Risk Management received the results, they sent a memo to Scott wanting a list from the driver’s doctor concerning his medication and its effects. (They merely wanted clarification on what medication this employee could take and still reliably perform his job.) Scott went on to handle the situation in a clumsy and heavy-handed manner.

First, Scott went out of the employee’s chain of command and informed a different battalion chief of the irregularities in the drug screen (which was none of this chief’s business). Scott then sent the chief to physically bring the employee to administration. Yet, Chief Scott did nothing to resolve the questions, but removed the man from his position as a driver for months. Throughout, Scott violated protocols; other people clearly learned of the employee’s medical situation through Scott. Later, Scott involved a captain in the process who was not in the driver’s chain of command. It should be noted that this driver is the same employee who had refused constant pressure from Scott to work on the Transit House and was subjected to the only surprise inspection Scott has ever performed. Finally, after everything was said and done, this employee was returned to his post having never been charged with any wrongdoing by Risk Management. The captain, who Scott inappropriately involved, cleared up the whole situation in a single day.



With all of the strife that Chief Scott has caused and witnessed over the past four years regarding promotions, intimidation, confidential medical information and legal and morale problems (created by scuttling policy and procedures and chain of command), one would think Chief Scott would have learned something. The next scenario will show Chief Scott to be incredibly obtuse and tyrannical when it comes to his use of power and it shows that he has a long memory.

Previously, we mentioned the sergeant who declined to work on the transit house and received from Chief Scott a surprise nighttime inspection. The sergeant was then later pulled unnecessarily from his post due to bogus drug charges. In late 2001, lightning struck again for Scott and the sergeant when the latter applied to become a training lieutenant. The sergeant lost the competition, became skeptical of the promotional process, and filed a grievance. Things then got ugly.

Shortly after filing the grievance, the sergeant had a sudden drug screen (as in three hours later). This screen indicated the same migraine medication his four previous screens had shown, including a screen done just four months before (results that were never mentioned to the sergeant). Risk Management again informed Scott they needed, per protocol, an updated medical letter spelling out the sergeant’s prescriptions. Scott decided to handle the situation in a singular and compelling way.

Three shifts later (approximately nine days), the sergeant was at a medical emergency assisting in performing CPR on a victim. The call went out from Chief Scott for the sergeant to come to Administration immediately. Battalion Chief Freeman called the captain in charge of the battalion who then informed Freeman of the on-going CPR emergency. Freeman informed Scott who still wanted the sergeant brought before him at once. Freeman then ordered the captain to bring him "now" (because he was not going to get into "hot water" with Scott). The captain went to the scene, had the sergeant drop what he was doing (chest compressions) and took him to Administration as the patient’s family watched (the patient later died). Then, the captain and sergeant waited two hours for Scott who had left administration after ordering the sergeant’s immediate attendance.

Scott finally arrived, but he would not allow the captain into the meeting who, per policy, has the right to be included. Scott did call in Deputy Chief Mike Rogers, who has nothing to do with suppression and is not in the sergeant’s chain of command. Scott, in front of Rogers, told the sergeant that he had "failed" a drug test. Chief Rogers began telling the sergeant that he had to get his blood pressure under control. Scott and Rogers defended themselves regarding his grievance. Then, Scott put the sergeant off duty, stating he did not know exactly what could be done to get him back on duty, but that he needed to get the drugs out of his system. Let us parse the situation.

Chief Scott violated the substance abuse policy and procedures as stated in the county and department handbooks. Scott involved people who had no business knowing the sergeant’s situation, thereby violating the sergeant’s right to confidentiality. Furthermore, Scott did not tell the sergeant what Risk Management had actually required in the case. In the end, Scott disregarded the process and the sergeant, either out of malice or benightedness.

The sergeant went directly to Risk Management and was informed that they had never told Chief Scott to place him off duty, that they only wanted an updated list of prescriptions from his physician. After all, they were already aware of his medical situation from previous drug screens and the previous conflagration involving Scott. Scott also told the sergeant he had to get the drug "out of his system." Because the drug is a prescribed blood pressure medication, there could not have been a legitimate reason for such comment and such a comment is inconsistent with the level of professionalism that would be expected of one in the position of "Interim Fire Chief."

In the course of these debacles, Chief Scott unethically violated the privacy of these men in many ways. At no time should the issues of a drug screening and a grievance be discussed at the same meeting. They should have been addressed separately to avoid the appearance of intimidation. The idea of pulling a man from an active medical scene, and then making him wait, is unconscionable.

Leapfrog

Jumping ranks was not practiced in the old city or county because it would have compromised a superior’s ability to govern his men. The principle is that an officer needs to experience each level in order to understand the jobs of the personnel he supervises. In the consolidated Fire Service, there are many examples of men leapfrogging ranks with the most prominent being Chief Scott going from captain to deputy chief. This has resulted in many instances of undisciplined and inept management. One example is his staff meetings. Chief Scott is known for his hours-long teleconferences with battalion chiefs. Yet, even with the long conferences, information would vary so much from shift to shift that battalion chiefs have kept special pads to try and keep track of all the inconsistent instructions. Scott has also been known to keep his battalion chiefs out on the road in their SUV’s delivering "mail." The chiefs would have to make numerous trips to administration to pick up memos and correspondence to deliver to the stations.

Scott also spent quite a bit of time on the phone to Washington D.C. Phone records indicate numerous and lengthy talks between Scott and Ronnie Few. One battalion chief was pulled from his job to listen to a call between Scott and Few. Yet there have been instances when 911 has attempted to contact Chief Scott, per emergency protocols, and found that he had turned his pager off. And further requests for him to phone in failed to get a response. Scott has gotten on the radio (TAC 1) and tied it up with non-emergency chatter (violating his own most impassioned orders). This is disappointing behavior for the leader of a key emergency agency.

Chief Scott also made the overtime policy an unnecessarily complicated enterprise. When battalion chiefs were given the leeway to call people back to keep stations fully staffed, Scott would not establish a fair, written policy for the callbacks. The results were that overtime appeared to consistently go to Scott cronies. Once the battalion chiefs complained (and the Special Grand Jury inquired), Scott allowed an equitable rotation to be established. Later, Scott cancelled all overtime because he had hired 14 new recruits. His excuse was that we didn’t need overtime because of the additional people. But the recruits would not be in the stations for months, so the department was running understaffed companies. Scott had 16 empty salary slots to use for overtime pay. The county suffers from under protection and the firefighters are placed at greater risks. No one can figure out the how or why of Chief Scott’s management in all of this.

Personality Clashes

A tenet of good management is to never undermine the integrity of one of your managers. The challenge that Chief Scott experienced, in skipping rank to Deputy Chief, became overwhelming when he was named Interim Chief. One more deplorable examples of this is the way he treated one of his fellow officers, the department’s Training Chief, Chris James. It was apparent, even before his ascension, that Scott had personal issues with James. As Interim Chief, he let those issues leak into his professional conduct. Scott maligned James to subordinates, as well as to personnel, under James’ authority. In one of the incidents, Scott was traveling with an administrative assistant and gave details about the many failings that he saw in Chief James. On this same trip, Scott and the assistant visited a fire station where Scott began ripping James in front of all the firemen present. This type of unprofessional behavior greatly angers Scott when he is the target, yet he finds it acceptable when he targets someone like James.

Scott also allowed his personal feelings to get in the way of decisions regarding departmental training. Once he became Interim Chief, Scott let it be known to the battalion chiefs that he would show James who was the boss. Chief James worked long hours to coordinate a training event at the BP Amoco plant, fulfilling a fundamental mission of training. Shortly before the scheduled drill, Scott called James into the office and, in a matter of minutes, cancelled it without giving a reason. Ironically, this was merely weeks before the explosion at the plant that killed three people.

So strong were Scott’s personal feelings about James that he began to play the race card. Chief Scott let it be known to many that he felt Chief James "wasn’t black enough" and that he "wasn’t taking care of his own." This and other such comments created a hostile work environment that made James uncomfortable enough to take these issues to the EEO. This confusion and tension was directly due to Scott’s use of intimidation as a managerial tool. This unprofessional treatment of a subordinate shows a lack of judgment and insight on the part of Chief Scott.

Carl Scott Decisions

Chief Scott began to mismanage county resources in an apparent effort to gain political capital. When private citizens hold gatherings of a certain size, they are required to pay an off-duty fireman to work a "special." This fireman is there to ensure fire safety rules are followed. Chief Scott has, on at least two occasions, ordered on-duty firemen to be sent to work "specials" pro bono at private functions. This is a violation of the Augusta-Richmond County Code (1-10-22). (Appendix N (a)) One of these functions was a political dinner held by former mayor Ed McIntyre. The other was a party held by the present mayor pro tempore, Richard Colclough. At no point did either have to pay for this service that regular citizens must pay for. In the process, Chief Scott caused stations to be short staffed when he removed the personnel, thereby arbitrarily placing political gain over public safety. (Appendix N)


Chief Scott also used county resources to impress his superiors. While Interim Chief, he made it a departmental practice to wash the cars of the County Administrator and the Deputy Administrator. He instructed the firemen at Station #4 to wash the vehicles while on-duty. At other times, firemen were enlisted to wash vehicles at Station #3. This is clearly not a proper use of fire personnel and fire resources.

When Chief Scott wants to emphasize something, he refers to it as a "Carl Scott Decision." He uses this expression to demonstrate that an issue is not open to any discussion. This approach has been used to put a veneer of credibility on decisions borne of favoritism, especially while Interim Chief. One example involves an administrative assistant whom Scott moved from the Fire Prevention Bureau and then placed in Administration with no defined duties. So favored was this person that Scott sent her to Forsythe for firefighter training at her request (circumventing normal hiring and training procedures) and gave her a double uniform allowance. He then realized that he had to outfit the other civilian personnel in the office as well (costing the county an additional two thousand dollars).

Another example of favoritism is the convoluted way in which he has handled men on light-duty. Light-duty, historically, has been used for personnel who were slightly injured. Light-duty under Chief Scott transmogrified into some sort of charitable program where certain employees have been allowed to hang around for years, washing cars and running errands. Meanwhile, other employees have been forced to take reduced salaries (having to take such things as Workmen’s Compensation) while the light-duty employees get a full salary on a reduced schedule. One special employee enjoyed this status for over two years.

While the Special Grand Jury is understandably distressed by these miscues and misdeeds of Chief Scott, much of the blame for this situation lies in the system that rewards mediocrity as long as its major adornment is blind loyalty to the reigning establishment.


Training


A fire service, even more than the average organization, is only as good as its training. Training introduces new recruits to the agency’s knowledge, skills and philosophies. Training keeps the skills of veterans sharp and introduces everyone to advances in the science of fire fighting. It is an instrument for evaluating strengths and weaknesses of individuals and engine companies, allowing for correction, teaching and the continuous improvement of the department. Consolidation presented challenges regarding training, combining two departments with very different philosophies, and training regimens. Consolidation created a geographical entity made up of urban, suburban and rural areas and the requirement of cross-training the men for diverse situations.

Never given to understatement, Chief Few arrived and announced that he was immediately going to revamp the old fashioned training program that was " . . . twenty years behind the times." Few introduced Minimum Standards to Augusta-Richmond County. This consisted of 12 rotations, all timed events, i.e. minimum standards. The purpose of minimum standards, as Few proposed, was to make this a faster, leaner fire department. Each event had a set time limit, which had to be met, or penalties up to suspension and termination would be imposed. Both the individual and companies are tested. On the face of it, it seems logical because it is measurable and seemingly fair.

Yet, minimum standards turned out to be terribly flawed. The first flaw is the emphasis of time over technique. By stressing speed, the Training Division has allowed the teaching of technique to lapse. To make the time limits, the firefighters are doing things in a manner they would never do on the fire ground. This can only lead to bad habits developing. Actual firefighting techniques were allowed to languish in favor of speed, thus the testing failed to identify or measure actual fire fighting skills.

The next flaw is a lack of correction. When a standard is failed, the firefighter or company is not told the reason why. The training officer is prohibited from providing help to the men by rule. The Special Grand Jury was told that this was because "they should already know what they are doing wrong." With no correction or training, how can a department improve? In other words (as the SGJ heard over and over), training is basically a testing division. If flaws are not corrected, then training fails its purpose for existing.

Another flaw becomes apparent when company minimum standards are examined. With staffing problems, men are moved around from company to company to fill gaps. This becomes a handicap. Companies are often tested without their normal complement and therefore not reflecting the company’s true abilities. Some men are moved so much they take company standards multiple times while others never take them, a gap that training should never allow much less create.

The next flaw is the potential discrimination against older firefighters. Organizations like the military have age-adjusted physical standards. A 20-year old has one set of physical standards while a 40-year old performs standards adjusted for his age. Augusta’s testing standards make no distinction for age. Chief Few, according to several things he said publicly, was using the training department to weed out old and obese people. Amongst the men, the view was different. Preferred firemen, no matter how old or obese, would never fail minimum standards. The "dead wood" or "those not in favor" would be sanctioned as soon as they failed the first interval. While this may seem discriminatory, in the Few political system, it was business as usual. Training was transformed from a tool to a weapon.

One side issue with minimum standards is the ladder climb using Aerial Truck #3. Under Chief Maddox, the Training Chief was the understood second in command of the Fire Service. With Chief Few’s reorganization and addition of two Deputy Chiefs, the power of the Training Chief was diminished. When he requested the use of AT#3 for individual minimum standards, the battalion chief, who did not want to take the truck out of service and diminish coverage of Battalion Two, refused him. The Training Chief is not considered to be above the battalion chiefs in authority. The Ladder Climb is mainly a physical test to determine the physical condition of the individual firefighter. In a working fire, the firefighters would simply ride up in the bucket and not actually climb the extended ladder.

When minimum standards are added to the time-consuming tasks of being a "community- based" Fire Service (referenced elsewhere in the presentment), the battalion chiefs and company officers had little time to train the troops themselves. After the public relations duties and minimum standards, it is still necessary for someone to practice "real firefighting" (all the more now that the training department has been reduced to the role of observers). The battalion chiefs felt that the scheduling of the social calendar precluded serious drills, but were wary to complain to Few. Yet, when they complained directly to training, the chiefs were told that it was really the chiefs’ responsibility to drill, not the training departments.

As will be noted elsewhere, there was also the lack of a service-specific policy and procedures manual. How does this apply to training? The problems were numerous. What is the protocol for how the training chief relates to a battalion chief - who takes precedence? What are the rules for keeping training logs? Who keeps the logs and how do you keep them? Who sanctions whom? How does Augusta fight fire? The recruits might like to know. One former training officer spent hours and hours working on the revised policy and procedures and then spent three-plus fruitless years listening to Few making excuses why he could not implement them. This is more fallout from the lack of a policy and procedure manual during the Few era.

When it was time for a new rookie class to be trained in 2000, the whole framework of training showed its lack of foundation. There was confusion regarding the fitness test given to prospective hires. Chief Few let it be known that the 2000 rookie class would have five female recruits. When only one female was able to pass the physical test, the test was then made easier on the Chief’s instructions so as to get the full allotment of five. The class then became an unwieldy number of 27. With only one training officer available at a time, the instructor-to-pupil ratio was obviously inadequate. And with that many trainees, another problem emerged: a lack of equipment for trainees. With money flowing to pet projects and other extravagances, poor planning forced rookies to share equipment. Personal items like gloves, air masks, coats and pants were passed from hand to hand. Even when they were assigned to stations, the rookies had to use old, outsized, even unsafe hand me downs.

The rookie class, given the unique moniker Millennium Trailblazers by Few, started its training with the idea courses would last twelve weeks. While a syllabus existed, the Fire Service’s administrative chaos caused the rookie training to go on for twenty-six weeks . (Appendix O) Frustrated rookies and training officers were thoroughly baffled as the weeks dragged on and fire administration was uncharacteristically silent. Speculation ran rampant. Few glitzed up the pinning ceremony into a fabulous media event and party and had to wait some weeks until the Phoenix Media Awards had passed and there was a new news cycle. Since the firefighters had tired of having to "volunteer" for the Chief’s pageants of self-promotion, fire administration used the rookies, since they were a "captive" and cheap labor force, to prepare for the Media Phoenix Awards.

The rookie class was also held back so as to provide cheap labor in the stations. While the rookies waited to graduate to full-time status, they were working 40-hour weeks (at minimal trainee pay). During the period before graduation, they were placed in stations and made to work like the regular firemen, but were not getting paid as such, even though they had taken the requisite twelve-week course. Why were they not allowed to be treated or paid as equals? It was incompetence, grandstanding or, more probably, both.

The graduation party ended up as a being an extravagant bash of self-congratulation. It was filled with speeches, catered food and dignitaries. Money was even spent videotaping the event. And, so many people were invited that the rookies were limited in who they could invite to their own graduation.

Training also suffered to some degree because its chief had never risen above sergeant in suppression. Because of this, the Technical Services chief micro-managed the training chief hard. This was not James’ fault, but a chief in training should have more experience in suppression than just being a sergeant. It is a hole in the current system and creates a credibility gap between the training chief and the battalion chiefs.

When looking at Training, one has to wonder: Why? While Chief Few created an appearance of emphasis on training, he understaffed this critical department and misused a class of eager rookies. Fire Administration made grandiose assertions for the politicians and the media, but the reality was much starker. The department had virtually no training, but made testing processes to appear otherwise.


The Fire Prevention Bureau


The Fire Prevention Bureau is an unsung yet eminently important part of the Fire Service. The Bureau is under Technical Services and has a chief (Bobby Joyner), or Fire Marshal, in charge. The responsibility of the Bureau is to enforce fire codes, inspect buildings and businesses, review plans for new construction and investigate suspicious fires. The present bureau was constructed from the two pre-consolidation departments. Prior to consolidation, nine people were inspecting buildings in the City and the County. In the county, Lt. Jerry Asbach (retired) received statewide awards for arson investigations. Lt. Herbert Terry is considered first rate at inspections, codes and plan review as was Capt. Tommy Tuten (retired). Capt. Roy Rogers (retired) and the Bureau from the old City were also considered conscientious in their duties. Thus, the two bureaus were aptly respected.

The Bureau has not fared as well under consolidation. The area of coverage increased with consolidation, but the number of inspectors in the bureau has decreased to levels significantly below that of pre-consolidation. There are only three full-time inspectors in the bureau, with the plan reviewer, the arson investigator and the Fire Marshal having to double-up and do inspections. One of the proposed solutions to this situation is having companies do the inspections while pre-planning in their territories. There is some merit to this idea, but how do the companies take on more responsibility while they’re short-staffed and performing all of the public relations functions.

There are some problems currently in the Bureau that are beyond the control of the Fire Marshal (such as staffing), but good leadership is about taking the difficult situations and managing it efficiently. In the Bureau today, discipline and work performance standards are inconsistent at best and the training and orientation of new staff is non-existent. The Marshal’s focus tends to be on things inconsequential (such as "specials" explained later).

The current Marshal has approximately thirty-five years of experience in the Fire Service and earns approximately $50,000.00 a year. After the newest inspector was hired, much of her training consisted of her sitting down with a fire codebook and being told to "learn this." The bureau essentially has no training program, no guidance for trainees and no follow-up. She sought advice from bureau co-workers on her own. Fire Marshal Joyner would not go out on inspections to teach her and did not set up a structure under which she could be formally mentored. When she requested to attend classes at the state training facility, she was denied. This pattern is not an isolated example.

Marshal Joyner’s standards and expectations are mystifying. There is not a double standard or triple standard, it is more the standard du jour. For example, one Masters Week, Chief Joyner was out of the office and left one of his employees in charge. It was a department edict that week that no more leave was to be approved. The person in charge took two days off and approved two days off for another bureau employee. The man in charge was suspended for three days for taking and approving the illegitimate leave. The other employee was suspended for ten days for taking leave approved by his superior. In another example, most inspectors have to hand in sheets that account for their time and inspections. Still, Joyner will randomly allow an employee to have hours unaccounted for. There was a situation at the Bureau where an employee disappeared for a week (thus de facto abandoning his post). After one week, Administration discovered the employee’s whereabouts when he responded to a registered letter. Despite clear violations of county procedure, Chief Joyner took only moderate corrective action (a written reprimand).

If there is good morale in the Bureau, it is not because of Fire Marshal Joyner. The Fire Marshal should be a leader and a good administrator: he should set the agenda, help create the vision, encourage clear lines of communication and anticipate problems. The present Fire Marshal, despite the importance of the bureau and his role, has been found lacking in many of these areas and consequently the morale of the Bureau has plunged.

Much of Chief Joyner’s daily work production is spent dealing with and organizing "Specials." A Special is shorthand for Special Duty. The law requires public gatherings of a certain size to have representative of the Fire Department present to ensure fire safety and code adherence. These shifts are done outside of regular working hours and the firemen receive direct payment from the event organizers. They are assigned, arranged and even worked frequently by Fire Marshal Joyner. Specials are a great focus of his attention and energy while the under-staffed Bureau is languishing. Marshal Joyner has stated that he feels that managing specials is a full-time job.

The Special Grand Jury will make specific recommendations, but it is clear that there needs to be a comprehensive review of the Bureau by the Department. The Fire Department must place more importance on the operations of the Bureau; it is the true first line of defense for fire protection. Clearly, in such an important area of the Fire Service, resources and leadership need to be enhanced to restore the Bureau to its necessary level of ability.

Falsified Time Sheets


In our inquiry, the SGJ discovered ethical violations in the county rules governing compensation and in compelling subordinates to participate in these activities. On two separate occasions, Chief Few instructed his payroll clerks to falsify time sheets for certain employees. First, we must explain how 24-hour and 8-hour employees are paid. An eight-hour employee works forty hours a week, a twenty-four hour suppression employee receives overtime hours (called float time) in a thirty-day period whereas the eight-hour employee does not. This distinction becomes important in the following examples.

The first example occurred shortly after Chief Few was hired. He ordered a suppression sergeant to work in training that only has eight-hour employees. When the payroll clerk wanted to change his time to eight-hour shifts, the chief ordered her to continue paying him as a twenty-four hour shift employee (increasing his hours and making him eligible for float time). The clerk rightly objected to this payroll fraud. When she was continually pressured by the chief to perpetrate this ruse, she made him sign a memo taking full responsibility for this misrepresentation. The chief authored and signed such a memo. (Appendix P)


This situation was repeated later with a different payroll clerk. Again, the chief wanted a twenty-four hour employee paid as such even though he had been placed in an eight-hour job (as the chief’s driver/office assistant). This payroll clerk sought the advice of the EEO Officer. EEO advised the clerk that she did not have to obey an illegal order and, that if she did, she would be just as guilty. The clerk was reassured she would not suffer repercussions if she refused to go along with the order. When informed of this decision, the Chief said that the clerk did not have the right to go behind his back and question his orders (which was inaccurate, the clerk could go to the EEO office at any time). The Chief informed the clerk that his orders would be obeyed because he was the chief and his word was law. The Chief then took away many of the clerk’s responsibilities and gave them to a less inquisitive employee.


Policy and Procedures


For an organization to be effective, there must be policies and procedures in place. These policies and procedures should be written in a clear and direct fashion, communicated to the whole organization and applied fairly. While the whole county government has a policies and procedures manual, the Fire Service additionally has had a department specific set of policies and procedures: fighting fire is a dangerous and strenuous business. Before consolidation, the county department had a comprehensive policies and procedures manual while the city department had a less exhaustive approach. Upon consolidation, Chief Maddox replaced the county manual with his "36 RULES" as mentioned earlier (35 rules with a 36th rule stating that the chief was able to nullify the other rules at his discretion). Upon his arrival, Chief Few abolished the first thirty-five. When Chief Few came to Augusta, part of his management strategy was to create a set of committees to make the firefighters feel included. These committees were Equipment Specifications, Uniforms and Policy and Procedures. It should be noted that the work of these committees ultimately produced little impact.

Chief Few really talked up the theme of how important the work of policy and procedure committee was to efficient functioning of the Fire Service. As was his wont, he often used the "Burger King" analogy, stating repeatedly that no matter which station you dealt with " . . . it’s the same flavor:" same rules, same equipment, same customer service, etc. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between stations whether you were a customer or a worker. The puzzling aspect of this is that despite all of the circumlocution, in three years, Chief Few was unable to produce fire department policies and procedures.

The next mystery occurred after the Policy and Procedures Committee was formed in mid-1997. The committee began work to produce a manual when, suddenly, a manual of Policy and Procedures appeared in the stations. Curiously, besides being a complete mess (backward pages, sections and numbers out of order, etc.), the date of publication on the manual was February 1997, one month before Chief Few began as Augusta’s fire chief. No one has ever been able to explain this. Where did this manual come from and who was its author? The Policy and Procedure Committee was extremely upset as it was not their work product. When they questioned Fire Administration, the manuals were quickly taken up without comment. No one in the Fire Department would ever admit to knowing the author or origins of this book.

Meanwhile, the Policies and Procedures Committee worked diligently, produced a manual and delivered it to Chief Few. Then, the watch began. The men waited and waited. And as time passed, their puzzlement grew. "Where are the Policies and Procedures?" The men, and later the Special Grand Jury, received various explanations. The first explanation was, "the Policy and Procedures manual is at the lawyer’s (county attorney) office." (Appendix Q) This was a common story, as everyone had heard it at one time or another. The County Attorney debunked this excuse. He stated that he received them, reviewed them, made some minor changes and promptly sent them back to the Chief. He could not fathom why he was being blamed for a two-and-a-half-year delay.

The next story that became prevalent throughout the Fire Service was that the Fire Policies and Procedures Manual was so excellent that the county Human Resources Department requested that Fire hold off on publication while they (the County) based their new county policies and procedures on the Fire Department’s. This was surprising news to the Human Resources Director. Human Resources had not seen any Fire Department manual and a county manual cannot be practically based on the policies and procedures of any one department. Human Resources had worked on the county policies and procedures manual independent of any other department. (Appendix Q (a))


Finally, there was the idea floated around the halls of government that the new policies and procedures could not be put in place because other Fire Departments were examining them for their use because they were done so well. This explanation made the least sense to anyone. We sent the only copy off? Couldn’t we implement the policies and procedures while others benefited from it? Chief Few stated that unnamed departments were passing around the only copy.

The policies and procedures manual was finally distributed in early 2001. Why are we so concerned about policy and procedures? In the absence of policies and procedures, the Fire Service cannot be managed in a consistent and effective manner. The Ronnie Few Fire Department was anything but "Burger King." Instead of being treated consistently, individuals and groups were treated in a completely situational manner. And, there were few arenas where this was more obvious than the area of discipline.


Discipline


Discipline is important to any organization, indispensable to the Fire Service. You must know what the rules are and what are the consequences for breaking them. Rules and regulations must be obvious! Few other professions require employees to live together for twenty-fours at a time. At any moment an alarm goes off and it is life and death for firefighters and the citizens. Discipline is the glue that holds the department and its people together and forms them as a unit.

In the absence of policy and procedures, discipline became the individual traditions of twelve different Battalion Chiefs. One chief might follow the policies and procedures of the old county, another the old city. One might follow the management style of an old mentor. One chief even quoted a training manual in disciplining one of his men. Each chief patched together policy as best he could. Discipline varied from shift to shift, station to station, officer to officer.

Here are some examples of how the men have been disciplined over the last few years. It is a maelstrom of confusion, with no discernible rhyme or reason when observed from the outside. We will show that punishment was often meted out in ways not proportional to the infraction. Often similar infractions were punished in ways vastly different due to the personality of the offender and/or the opinion of the supervisor.

Without policies and procedures, whim and preference was the rule. For example, a battalion chief tries to write-up an employee for going to a fire without a helmet. Administration would not even allow the chief to issue a verbal warning. This is not an unusual occurrence. There is more than one example where officers were not allowed to discipline their men for basic violations. Most battalion chiefs feel there are favored employees, employees immune to sanctions for improper behavior. Warnings would be torn up for one employee, while the same infraction was punished to the hilt for another.

Because We Can

A recurring theme in the fire department is the paramilitary character of the organization. Unfortunately, time and again, we found abuses of power in discipline defended by the phrase, " . . . we’re a paramilitary organization." Many of the styles of discipline we found have nothing to do with the military tradition but are in fact excuses for unprofessional and gratuitous behaviors. In the Fire Service, the men in a manner undreamed of in any other county department suffer intimidation and forms of humiliation.

The intimidation takes many forms. One particular action is known to the men as "chesting up." Chesting is the act of physically violating personal space (this term originates from the gang culture in Los Angeles). The superior gets close to the subordinate: yelling, scowling and leering. The superior may or may not touch the subordinate, but the employee is forced to back down in a form of cowed reverence. This bullying is justified as paramilitary discipline, but it is detrimental to morale and overall organizational effectiveness.

Another intimidating practice is yelling or cursing at the employee. It is a way to control the men via humiliation. It has taken some extreme forms. There are numerous examples of marathon screaming sessions, some lasting for several hours. A variation of this is the tag-team method. Superiors take turns loudly berating the "offending" party, often without the employee’s immediate supervisor present. Frequently, this person being double-teamed is not being yelled at for a documented or clearly defined rules violation making it nearly impossible for the employee to appeal to a higher authority.

Another technique is stewing an employee. The employee is called to the administrative office and made to wait and wait and wait. These employees are often on duty, being forced to sit, sometimes for over eight hours. It is not unheard of that after waiting the day, the employee is told, "the chief will see you tomorrow," and the process starts all over again. The Fire Service, already understaffed, has seen engines taken off duty and/or stations closed to accommodate this message sending. Combine this with the yelling and profanity, and being a "combat" fireman, takes on a new meaning.

The above acts are little more than attempts to degrade the individual while making the superior feel just that: superior. Partly because of this corrupting of the paramilitary system, the department has seen an upturn in legal actions taken against it, costing the taxpayer money in unnecessary legal fees to defend gratuitous and often senseless acts. The department suffers as a whole. When there are legitimate discipline problems, they are overshadowed by excessive reactions and things get personal.

Crime and Punishment

Discipline in the Few administration was inconsistent and arbitrary. Since there was no policy manual, Few and a select group that had special access and ease of communication with him, meted out discipline an arbitrary fashion. They used different standards for different people and the level of punishment did not always match the level of the offense. The Special Grand Jury surmises that outside factors (politics, friendships and connections, personal preferences) warped discipline under Chief Few. There are numerous examples of the inconsistency of punishment under the Few reign.

The first example is an inspector who wrote up a day care center for significant code violations and then gave them a specific number of days to rectify it or be closed. The owner complained to the County Administrator and went to Chief Few. The inspector was demoted from lieutenant to sergeant and sent back to suppression for "being rude." Fire Administration "saw the light" after learning the "sergeant" had retained a lawyer and was coming with a suit. They immediately restored him to his previous position. This is one incident, but we highlight it because it is indicative in terms of discipline over the last several years. Political connections and personal preferences rather than skilled leadership have often fueled discipline decisions and the evaluation of job performance.

Take for example the disciplining of three separate lieutenants accused of similar offenses. The most recent incident concerns a man named Tony Brown. The other two concern men still with the department, who we will call Cosmos and Damien to protect their identities.

Chief Few eagerly sought good publicity and, when it came to the media, he would go to any length to control his public image, including the discipline of offending personnel. In 1998, the rank and file firemen were upset at the merit raises. In 1999, history repeated itself and Chief Few could not quell the men’s distress at administrative assistants and the PIO getting such big financial boosts, while the firemen who had higher evaluations were receiving much lower raises. Tony Brown, who was a Lieutenant, had gathered pay raise and purchasing information and distributed it to Fire Service personnel. The size of certain raises embarrassed Few and he assigned a battalion chief the task of investigating Lt. Brown. (Appendix R)


The battalion chief was somewhat uncomfortable with the personal, even intrusive, nature of the questions he was instructed to ask. Pressing on, the chief concluded that no county or fire department rules were broken and he recommended no disciplinary action be taken. In a following staff meeting, Chief Few expressed his displeasure with the chief’s conclusions. Few went so far as to say he would find a battalion chief who could perform the type of "investigation" he wanted. Before any new investigation was launched, Lt. Brown was fired.

This firing occurred when three firemen alleged that Brown had made threats against fire administration at different times. They stated that Brown had said someone should get the "white shirts" and that he had a postal uniform that anyone could borrow. They also said that Brown referred to the deputy chief of operations as a "gold-toothed chucklehead m**********r." Fire administration pressed terroristic threat charges against Brown and he was arrested. This also meant that he was fired from his job. The witnesses never stated that Brown threatened anyone directly (the District Attorney’s office later voided the arrest of the Brown due to a lack of any credible evidence that a crime had been committed). Still, the termination of Brown was held up under the county grievance process months after the original incident occurred.

Was the "crime" related to Lt. Brown’s activities? Fire administration had labeled him as a troublemaker and the pay raise issue made the newspaper. At the time, the regular Grand Jury, looking into the government, called Chief Few about his pay raise methods only two days before Brown was arrested. Chief Few was upset about the publicity and the attention he was garnering. Did this color the approach the fire investigation took and the subsequent charges brought? When the computer files of the PIO were searched months later, a letter was found dated one month before the alleged threats. This letter terminated Lt. Brown for "demonizing" his superiors. This letter casts suspicion on the motives of fire administration when dealing with Brown. (Appendix S) In contrast, let’s examine how a similar incident, Lt. Damien, was handled earlier.

Fire administration was made aware of a threat to kill the Deputy Chief of Technical Services, Mike Rogers, in 1998. Two firemen, under Lt. Damien’s supervision, alleged that he stated that he would kill Rogers due to perceived mistreatment. This lieutenant had a history of criminal activity known to the Fire Department. They were aware that the lieutenant had served prison time for arson and assault with intent to murder and later had been pardoned (this also was known to the department). At no time were the police called in to investigate these allegations nor did Lt. Damien receive any punishment from the fire department. Later, when Lt. Damien was demoted in an unrelated incident, he was told if he appealed the demotion he would be immediately reported to the police for his earlier alleged threats. This can be contrasted with yet another incident of violence that occurred before Brown or Damien.

This incident occurred at a working fire scene. Lieutenant Cosmos was upset at how a captain was performing his duties. So Cosmos, in a fit of anger, confronted the captain and then pushed him to the ground in front of witnesses. The lieutenant was given only two days suspension. Why is an overt act of violence given a small punishment when others who are suspected of the same thing are treated vastly different? The standards constantly change depending on the person and who his "victim" is. Why was an earlier incident, a direct threat against a chief, made by a man with a known criminal history not reported to the police? Meanwhile, an incident with vague threats made by someone with no known violent past is punished to the hilt. Why the vastly different approaches to discipline? Did Brown’s involvement in the pay raise controversy affect how he was treated? The questions will linger due to the known pattern of retaliatory discipline this department has engaged in.

Greensboro Incident

The next example of the abuse of discipline came in the wake of the debacle in Greensboro, N.C. This was a county-sponsored field trip. Fire Administration and the battalion chiefs traveled en masse to study a department five hours away. Chief Scott had the idea to convene a meeting in the motel lounge (where folks were consuming alcohol). When the volatile subject of pensions was brought up, tensions mounted and, as a city versus county brawl began to brew, Chief Scott stood face-to-face with former Battalion Chief Jimmy Taylor punctuating his point with a finger to the chest. This caused lingering animosity toward Taylor on the part of fire administration. Emotional and intense "discussions" continued between Chief Scott and Chief Taylor back in Augusta.

Some months later, the other deputy chief at a staff meeting brought up pensions. Taylor, knowing this was the last item and not belonging to the "49 pension plan," walked out of the meeting (as it was his day off). He chose the possibility of being reprimanded rather than allow the emotional fireworks to start all over (and maybe get into bigger trouble). The long history of pension tension in the department would soon boil over.

The "insubordination" (leaving the meeting) did call for disciplinary action that was fair and proportional so as to correct the behavior. Fire Administration, unable to understand appropriate discipline, chose a chaotic course in their disciplinary actions. First, Taylor was suspended without pay for a month. Taylor was then removed from his command and assigned to various silly make-work projects (like working on parade floats). In layman’s terms, this means that on every third day, a twenty-four hour employee was now working eight hours, five days a week. More importantly to the County, a battalion chief, with decades of suppression experience, was sitting on the sidelines and not protecting the citizens doing little work of value. The sad irony of this story is that Taylor was a spectator sitting home when the first Rivercreek fire occurred in December 1999 (where he would have been the incident commander).

Fire Administration then took the discipline a step higher (or lower?) to make more of an example of Taylor. Taylor was placed on open-ended reassignment and not allowed to return to his battalion until he went to classes at the public safety school in Forsythe, Georgia. Chief Taylor had difficulty even getting fire administration to schedule these classes. When fire administration finally got around to scheduling classes, they were geared to lower level law enforcement officers, of little value to a veteran fire department officer. Shouldn’t the training budget be used for actual training instead of sending a message? Officials at Forsythe state that training is a valuable commodity and should not be misused. Forsythe is a nationally respected facility and this taxpayer resource should not be trivialized. Taylor was back at his post seven months after the original incident. Examination of the performance evaluations of the twelve battalion chiefs in that time frame shows that eleven are nearly identical in wording and score, almost carbon copies. The one exception was Taylor. Over a year later, eleven battalion chiefs were rated exactly the same, but not Taylor who lost money on his merit raise.

Chief Scott has not distinguished himself in any of this. The decision to have a staff meeting at a bar in Greensboro, NC was ill considered. When tempers flared he became physical and a fracas nearly ensued. He has to shoulder responsibility for this and other examples of petty or retaliatory punishment during the Few era.

Abusive Disciplinary Policies

It has been noted earlier that Chief Few was emphatic in his pursuit of positive publicity. Chief Few was also notable in his pursuit of subordinates who would support his efforts to bathe himself in adulation. Strong was his disdain for anyone who disobeyed and made him look bad. The Fire Service had a lieutenant by the name of Johnny Anthony, an officer that helped the union recruit Few. Anthony began to question financial irregularities in both the union closely allied with Few and the Fire Department itself. Besides questioning finances, Mr. Anthony made public allegations that the 1997 promotions had been "fixed" (suggesting that a certain favored few had advance information about the promotion tests and their content).

Once Anthony went public with these suspicions, fire administration began to pay special attention to him and his dealings. One such notice occurred at the devastating Bobby Jones Brushfire of early 1998. At this large and confused scene, most of the fire department, on- and off-duty personnel, responded to this fire. Anthony was off duty and responded fighting fire for six hours. He was worn out and in the rehabilitation area after nearly being killed. The near-lethal experience occurred when Deputy Chief Scott, floating above the fire in a helicopter, repeatedly ordered the pilot down closer to observe the scene (over the objections of another chief in the chopper). The resulting downdrafts from the helicopter caused the fire to spread quickly and intensely. This made the zone so hot that one fire crew had to abandon their equipment and flee ending up over two miles away from their pumper (they were forced out onto Bobby Jones and had to hitchhike back). Anthony was caught in one of these downdrafts and was both upset and filthy. When Chief Few approached Lt. Anthony to shake his hand, Anthony demurred due to his condition and acknowledged the chief with a nod of the head. Anthony was then accused of being disrespectful for not shaking the hand of the chief. Fire Administration then ordered a battalion chief to investigate the incident. In a letter, Chief Scott ordered the investigating officer to look into "this occurrence and give me a determination as to what should be done about {the lieutenant’s} insolent behavior toward Chief Few" (emphasis ours). Despite the prejudiced beginning, the investigator concluded Chief Few sitting down with Anthony and having a manful discussion to clear the air could solve the incident. Fire Administration suspended Anthony for three days without pay and put him on probation for six months. No rules or precedents were cited for this action. In an ironic twist, a few months later Chief Few told a firefighter, "get away from me, I don’t trust you" when he attempted to shake the chief’s hand during a visit to Station 9.

Think of this idea from a discipline point of view. As mentioned earlier, one officer batters a superior in the middle of an active fire by pushing him to the ground and he is suspended for two days. The next officer does not shake the hand of The Chief, after an extremely stressful situation, and he is suspended for three days and put on probation.

Things never went well for Lieutenant Anthony thereafter. Two battalion chiefs later wrote him up for not saying "Hi" in the bathroom. Finally, there was a serious enough incident that Anthony grieved it all the way up to the County Personnel Board. This is where discipline in Augusta-Richmond County may have reached a new low. As we have stated earlier (see policy and procedures), the Fire Department did not have a dedicated Policy and Procedures Manual during the Few years. Every chief testified to the Special Grand Jury to this regard and every rank in the Fire Service clearly understood it.

As the Personnel Board heard evidence, Chief Ronnie Few (who was sworn to tell the truth) was confronted on the issue of the policy and procedures of the fire department. First, he stated that the firemen are trained on the fire department policy and procedures. One problem: they did not have any policy and procedures to train the men with because they did not exist. As the acting chairman of the board pressed him on what the manual looked like and its availability, Chief Few began to describe in detail how the manual looked, how changes were made to the manual, how everyone knew where they were and how to get them. Again, the problem with this testimony is that these manuals were non-existent. Chief Few had testified to the Special Grand Jury to this fact both before and after this disciplinary hearing. In fact, Chief Few knew the Special Grand Jury was attending this hearing and still testified to these mythical manuals. The Special Grand Jury decided to look into the charging of the Lieutenant from the beginning and found that fire administration had presented inaccurate documentation and statements from the very start. (Appendix T)


As charges against Anthony were passed up to Chief Scott, his battalion chief cited a regulation from a fire operations manual that was never put into effect and was not present in any station. Scott and the battalion chief knew that the rule and manual did not exist, but nonetheless sent it up the grievance chain to Deputy Administrator Walter Hornsby (who hears disciplinary appeals). Hornsby upheld the department’s penalties against Anthony and cited the mythical regulation as part of the basis of his decision. Even assistant county attorney, Lee Little, was taken in by this inanity. In answer to a request by Little, Chief Rogers gave her a page from a manual that Chief Maddox had discontinued in 1996. This page, from a defunct manual, was then used to defend the fire department before the Personnel Board.

At these levels of confusion, deceit and absurdity, how can the disciplinary process maintain its integrity? How can we possibly be fair to our employees? Chief Few successfully defeated this man. He lost a month’s pay and as a twenty-year plus veteran, was demoted to an entry-level firefighter. Administration then placed Anthony back in his old station under the men he had once commanded. The Special Grand Jury holds no position as to whether Anthony was guilty of any infractions, but we demand that all county employees be treated fairly and that all department heads tell the truth, whether they are under oath or not.

The area of discipline is probably one of the sadder areas of Few’s tenure. It was the source of strife, confusion, and some lawsuits. At no time was Few punished for creating such a chaotic situation. At no time did he receive censure for his lies and half-truths. By following a belief of his mentor, Carl Holmes, which was to never put anything in writing so you then can adapt the situation to your ends, Few had more leeway than anyone in government in disciplining his workers.


Unneeded Expansion


At the time of consolidation, two people (one city, the other county) ran the budgets, payrolls and purchasing for the two fire departments. By year two, the departments were fully integrated financially and administratively. Maddox then departs. Two people still ran the administrative office when Chief Few enters 16 months into consolidation. One of his first acts was to remove a combat fireman from the frontlines and convert him into an attendant/chauffeur. There is a lingering mystery why this person got assigned these duties. The duties of this position varied; they included light office duties, driving the chief, running departmental errands and providing errand service for the personal needs of the staff. Later on, this man was the "official department photographer," with the County paying for training at Forsythe. Later, Few was told that he had to post and open the job to applicants. So Few made him the unofficial photographer, although he did not demonstrate any level of photographic competence. We will go into detail later on the policy and procedure violations that this situation caused. The creation and defense of this position was without reason. The fire suppression side is shorted a man, the assistant is paid for long periods of idleness and Chief Few issued an illegal order to allow this assistant to be paid as a twenty-four hour employee and, thus, continue to earn overtime pay (for a forty-hour work week, as discussed earlier).

The next of the original assistants, not up to the pressure (she was asked to approve illegal overtime (Appendix P)), decided to retire. Few then replaced the one retiree with two people, doubling his administrative assistants. One assistant was the "office manager." She answered the phone and managed Chief Few’s calendar, even on the weekends. She was even issued a county pager so he could call her at any time to check his schedule. The second assistant managed payroll, budgeting and purchasing, until Few handed some of her duties off to the office manager when she questioned the propriety of certain expenditures. There were many questions as whether there was enough work in administration for all of these assistants.

Chief Few then went to the Commissioners and hired two more administrative assistants. He justified it to the commissioners by saying he would pay for one with funds from extrications and the other would be paid for by a grant. So Few was allowed to add approximately $45,000.00 of salaries, yet extrications to this day have never earned more than $1,000.00 in any year and the grant ran out after one year (it was only for $7000.00 and went to training). When it came to the Commissioners, Chief Few knew they would fall in line. The workload and availability of funds did not justify adding two more people. (Appendix U)


Over and above this, Chief Few added a Public Information Officer (PIO), at Captain’s pay, who did many of the duties of an administrative assistant. She wrote memos, handled schedules, ran errands (including the purchase of gifts) and performed many personal tasks for Chief Few. So where there once were two people, there are now seven people working with the blessing of the Commissioners. And, when Chief Few had a public relations inspiration, he would also bring in up to three light-duty firemen, the fire education captain, a combat fireman and two people from fire dispatch that would be temporarily reassigned to work on special projects. Chief Few utilized at various times a minimum of fourteen county employees to work at administrative tasks and his special projects that were not county related. Meanwhile, the department had only three fire inspectors for the whole county and merely three officers responsible for training the entire department.


Getting Along with Others


In any organization, its strength depends on how well the different divisions work together. Each part must have defined areas of responsibility and oversight. By working together, the organization can move forward. Government, while not a typical organization, works the same way. There are certain departments charged with the oversight of the functions of other departments. Many departments overlap in responsibilities for the county. When there is a lack of cooperation or unwillingness to work together, the government and the community suffer. Under Chief Few’s administration, stonewalling and obfuscation were the norm when dealing with fellow department heads.

One department that has to work closely with the Fire Service is the county emergency management agency (EMA). EMA is responsible for coordinating emergency services in times of disaster and crisis. When Chief Few took charge of the Fire Service, Pam Tucker had ably served Richmond County for years as the EMA head, yet Few had great difficulty acknowledging the role and function of her and her department. Their relationship was often turbulent. At times, the chief was obstructionist with the EMA’s efforts to strengthen the county’s emergency preparedness.

A particularly glaring example was Chief Few’s general unwillingness to participate in EMA planned drills and training. One incident occurred when Chief Few refused to send a fire department representative to attend a training session with a local chemical plant. This plant had alerted EMA that their procedures had changed and they wanted to have a training and information session for the emergency departments in the area. When Ms. Tucker informed Chief Few of this session and its purpose, the chief claimed that he had no one to spare because of a prior commitment to another seminar. The chief failed to mention that, while he and others would not be able (or willing) to attend, there were numerous members of the hazardous materials team readily available to attend this session (that obviously concerned them). The atmosphere between Fire and EMA became noxious. When Few’s grasp of EMA’s duties was questioned, he bristled and fired off hostile memos to EMA. (Appendix V)


Few, often blinded by his own stature and power, revealed a new level of absurdity. Tucker had exited and a new director was being sought (a job Few openly campaigned for). The Chief went to a battalion chiefs’ meeting and stated his philosophy on cooperation with EMA:

  • Do not let the EMA director think that they have any authority
  • Limit information to them and do not answer questions from the agency
  • Do not allow them to take charge of emergency scenes (limit uncontrolled contact with the press)

Ponder this: the Fire Department not cooperating with EMA on direct orders from their chief. And, if the men follow Few’s orders, how do the citizens benefit? Is the county somehow safer? The number one disaster risk in Richmond County is a hazardous materials accident. What kind of leader allows his personal antipathy to interfere with his professional conduct and the consideration of public safety? (Appendix W)


If EMA was the only example, Chief Few’s incompetence in this situation could be chalked up to a personality conflict. The problem was not limited to EMA. Problems permeated any interdepartmental situation where Chief Few felt he was overlooked. For example, who could object to the department dedicated to equal opportunity? Chief Few could, to the point that he was willing to circumvent the legal rights of the Equal Employment Office (EEO) in order to preserve his territorial rights.

When employees or others are concerned about such things as departmental misconduct or policy violations, the consolidation document provided for an outlet for these concerns, the EEO Officer, Brenda Byrd-Pelaez. Ms. Byrd-Pelaez’s role was to investigate such matters and report on them. But when dealing with Chief Few, she found that he had free reign to hinder such investigations. EEO is called on to investigate things such as misuse of personnel, pay increases/promotions and abuse of county resources (human and material) for private and union activities (legitimate concerns and well within her mandate). When Byrd-Pelaez requested materials and information, it became a very long day at the EEO. Chief Few refused to turn over documents, sent overwrought memos to tie up the process and insulted and demeaned the person and the office of EEO. (Appendix X) In one memo, Chief Few stated that he felt "disturbed" that EEO would investigate "my department and me." In his fervency for EEO to "acknowledge [his] position as Chief of the Fire Department," one investigation was stonewalled to where Ms. Byrd-Pelaez was forced to ask the County Administrator to take up the investigation. Unfortunately, by this time, the administrator was so beaten by the commissioners and Few that any search for justice died without a whimper. At no time was Few ever compelled to turn over the materials or cooperate with the EEO.

Indeed, Chief Few had the power in this county to even transform the entire EEO mandate. He wanted to be informed by EEO of the names of those who requested her assistance and he demanded of EEO that his chain of command would decide when and if an employee could go to her. This directly violates county policy. He went on to make it personal. He questioned her motivation, her ability and her character. So effective was his stifling of her work that a commissioner (Lee Beard) and the administrator admonished her. One saying "back off" and leave Ronnie Few alone, while the other accused her of being too "tough on Ronnie." This amazing man had escaped warranted and valid scrutiny while neutering another county department.

County Administrator, Randy Oliver, did little better dealing with the chief that the commission had spawned. The expectation is, based on the county organization that all department heads answer to the county administrator. He is the day-to-day supervisor and they answer to him. He in turn communicates with the commissioners. An entire presentment could be written on the number of ways in which Chief Few would disregard the Administrator, but here are a few of the more blatant examples.

Mr. Oliver was involved in the "driver" situation. In April 1998, EEO investigated allegations of unauthorized use of personnel by Chief Few. As mentioned earlier, Chief Few, in 1997, had taken a suppression firefighter and turned him into a driver/administrative assistant. At no time had this position been officially created, approved or posted. When EEO investigated this matter, they discovered that this individual was being been paid as if he were still a 24-hour suppression firefighter. This meant that the chauffeur had been paid for months for overtime he never worked. When the matter was brought to Oliver’s attention, he consented to allow the suppression firefighter to be placed on temporary assignment, not to exceed ninety days, in fire administration (Few was never punished or even counseled for not following Oliver’s first request to remove the driver.). Chief Few demanded that the employee continue to receive the overtime pay of a suppression firefighter while working nine-to-five in the office. He had chutzpa; Few believed he could craft county policy by mere declaration. Oliver, citing federal wage laws in a memo sent to Ronnie Few, directed that the employee be compensated only for hours actually worked. Few then completely ignored Oliver and ordered a payroll clerk to pay the new administrative assistant as a twenty-four hour employee. At the end of the ninety days, the worker was to return to suppression. Oliver informed Chief Few if he wanted a permanent position he would need the commission’s approval via an agenda item which in turn would require a public posting and competition. The administrator’s expectations never came to pass.

This indifference rolled along for over a year until The Chronicle brought it to light (twice) and then the regular grand jury in late 1999. When questioned by the paper in early 1999, Oliver stated to the public that he would give the Fire Service "thirty days" to place the "assistant" (nee’ driver) back in suppression. Chief Few embarked on a series of memos in response to the administrator’s many orders to place the employee back in suppression. Few variously described the man as "the photographer," "a part of departmental reorganization" and endeavored to have him labeled "administrative firefighter." Few then attempted to place this job on the commission’s agenda. He removed it when he learned the "new" job would require open competition, thus he could not just plug the fellow back into his position. Oliver was again made aware of the issue when the regular grand jury inquired in October 1999. The County Administrator said he would remedy the situation. A week after Chief Few headed for D.C. in July of 2000, the Administrator confidently sent the Fire Service a memo ordering the acting chief to place the driver/photographer/assistant back into suppression (the ninety days now were up). The acting chief, bowing to Oliver, quietly acquiesced. (Appendix Z)


Few’s pattern of behavior is something no responsible government should ever accept. Yet it was always accepted with Few. Whenever Few violated proper purchasing procedures, Purchasing and the Commission would not allow governmental scrutiny, let alone any sanctions. When the Finance Department had questions about expenditures by the Fire Service, they found the Administrator unable or unwilling to enforce standard procedures. Accounting finally gave up and resorted to making Mr. Oliver sign off on expenditures that were "odd" (so Accounting would be covered when the inevitable questions occurred). Finance felt that Few was a department head that could do whatever he wanted.

When Chief Few’s more egregious disciplinary methods were questioned, Oliver was forced to take a hands-off approach. Human Resources and the EEO both found little backing from the Administrator and the commissioners when exercising their oversight duties. Attempts to limit Chief’s frequent out-of-town travels were met with indifference. Few traveled pretty much wherever and whenever he wanted. And finally when Oliver tried to make Few (and Katrice Bryant) accountable for their cell phone excesses, he faced such fierce commissioner interference, he settled for amounts much less than what was owed. And one commissioner (Marion Williams) still accused Oliver of "not protecting Ronnie Few enough."

Recall the temporary ninety-day administrative assistant mentioned above who had become a permanent fixture at Fire Administration. For the second time that we were able to find, Chief Few pressured a payroll clerk to make unethical overtime payments. Knowing the ramifications, the employee wisely balked. Chief Few was astounded that she would consider such mutiny. The employee, anticipating that the chief might not tolerate such disobedience if he was on the receiving end, went to the EEO in order to protect herself. For exercising her legal right, the employee and the EEO Officer found themselves in hot water with the Chief. Few felt conformity to a higher-up in a paramilitary organization is obligatory. He also felt that the employee should not have been allowed to go to EEO. He admonished the employee to not question his orders and "don’t go behind my back."

The clerk never fully recovered from this during Few’s reign. He began to assign her responsibilities to other employees almost immediately and her isolation within the administration offices grew steadily. At one point, the same clerk gave Few a list of Southeastern Association Conference costs that were inappropriately charged to the County. (Appendix Y) Few was irritated, so much so that another administrative assistant (he now had four) accused the clerk of not "being a team player."

The latter deed was the final straw for Few. Few moved her to a low-level job physically away from his office where she could never question any of his activities; it was as the assistant to the Fire Marshal. Few even went down personally to Headquarters days before going north to enlist on-duty combat firemen to clean out a room for the former clerk. Deputy Chief Scott checked on the work stating that, "Ronnie Few will see her moved to this office before he leaves." The job of a good clerk or administrative assistant is to verify and review. The clerk’s only offense was doing her job ably.

To summarize this section: it was not in Chief Few’s character to get along with other departments as a department head. The County Administrator was unable to require this department head to adhere to the basic county codes of procedure and conduct. We discuss in a later section how the commissioners created and fostered this embarrassing misadventure.


Public Information Officer Controversies


Many have wondered why the Augusta Fire Service needed a Public Information Officer (PIO). The reason for having such a position is to promote the image and morale of the Fire Department through fire safety education, public dissemination of the accomplishments of firemen and informing the media about fires. Chief Few’s unique vision for the post included promoting the City of Augusta, the Augusta Fire Department, as well as grant writing and coordinating various programs, seminars and conventions.

From the beginning there were problems. Few hired Katrice Bryant at ten percent above a salary that was already inflated by an erroneous posting. (Why? Because he could. The County attorney overruled the Administrator and Human Resources when they tried to rectify the situation.) The Fire Service then had to eliminate a captain’s position to create the job. And, with that salary, why did Few hire a young, lesser candidate with scant experience? And why is the Fire Service using its budget to do Chamber of Commerce activities? Who is the Fire Department marketing itself to and why?

Few’s oversight of the PIO failed also at the level of execution. According to battalion chiefs, Augusta had a PIO that largely did not go to fires. The PIO told different parties requesting help with grants that she did not do grants. (Appendix AA) Under Few’s tutorship the PIO became his personal agent, one who wrote articles in various publications promoting the chief and managed a web site that described the chief as nearly divine in his virtues. She produced the Fire Service’s biannual report which then became an expensive, slick copy production filled with pictures and accolades for Few that they sent all over the country. She also snapped copious photos and produced Ronnie Few tribute videos for various conventions and dinners.

One of the great strengths of Ms. Bryant had to be her loyalty. She worked diligently on projects like the factually deficient Rivercreek Report, which was used to spin the press coverage on that troublesome event. She wrote articles assailing critics in the department that ran in the departmental newsletter. She defended his personal use of county cell phones. A search of her computers showed anonymous letters written to local publications defending Few’s policies. This same search showed a connection with a local weekly paper. Bryant would give them information about Chief Few and what they knew about government; in return, Bryant received unpublished letters sent to the paper criticizing Few (and her). Bryant was a myrmidon when it came to the defense of her boss. In the aftermath of the 2000 Southeastern Chiefs’ Conference, she told the mayor and the public that she and Chief Few had no idea of the costs incurred. Searches clearly show this data was on her computer and in her own written notes. (Appendix BB) When a local TV news agency complained that she was not professional or accessible enough, she fired off a memo to Interim Chief Scott accusing the station management of being racists. She stated that Chief Few had refused this station an exit interview because of their "attitude" toward him. (Appendix CC)


The institution of PIO was a decided failure on many levels, especially in having enough actual work to warrant the position. Informational archives show that when the PIO was not preoccupied shepherding conventions or involved in energetic promotions and apologetics of Chief Few, there were not a lot of bona fide Fire Service tasks for her to do. Research showed her time was filled with assorted projects such as: producing Executive Development Institute (EDI)/Carl Holmes materials (for whom she was a paid staff member), planning Project Success activities, writing and sending out resumes and related letters for herself, Few and a friend, assisting her college sorority and alumni events, and planning wedding and shower celebrations. A letter was also discovered on her laptop computer addressed to the Washington Post newspaper. This letter, written with the name of the Augusta Richmond County Commission as the authors, defended Few’s record in Augusta and recommended him for the D.C. fire chief job. Ironically, it lists an award Few received that was later proven to be bogus. (Appendix CC (a)) Bryant was also the office shopper. She went to stores or the mall to find gifts for birthdays, Bosses Day, convention speakers, anniversary gifts and the like. Landline phone bills show hours of office time spent speaking long distance to parents, family and friends. The contributions allegedly made by Bryant cost the county more than she was worth.

The role of PIO began with some promise, but descended into the miasma that blanketed the entire Few legacy. Few and Bryant lacked the vision, experience and know-how to make it a position remotely worthwhile to the county. As shown in other sections, the PIO became a costly experiment in terms of money spent and lost prestige.


Cell Phones


Of particular annoyance to the Special Grand Jury has been the personal use of cell phones by Few and Bryant. Generally, other employees in Fire Service were responsible in their use of county cell phones, but not Few and Bryant. In one nine-month period we examined, Ms. Bryant made $1,454.00 of personal cell phone calls. An examination of her bills showed personal long distance calls to places such as Michigan, Virginia and California, as well as calls to family and friends within Georgia. She also used the county cell phone for personal calls while on vacation. While attending out-of-town conferences, she made calls within that locale, accruing both roaming and long-distance charges. Back in Augusta she placed orders to restaurants, checked her voice mail and bank balance and called directory assistance. She even called her hometown (Vienna, Georgia) after midnight. These were obviously not county-related calls and the total cost for the entire time Bryant was PIO is much higher. Ms. Bryant’s frailties were generic laziness at best or blatant abuses at worst.

It becomes hard to fault Ms. Bryant for abusing county cell phones policies when her supervisor violated the very same policies. Chief Few followed a similar pattern as Bryant. In one seven-month period, Few made close to $700.00 worth of personal calls. He placed personal calls to the Atlanta area (even while changing planes at Hartsfield). He would call friends and family from Anaheim to Miami, from Jekyll Island to Beech Island. He would use his cell phone while off duty and on vacation for personal calls. He called Carl Holmes and other members of the EDI clique. None of this could be justified as benefiting the county or the department. The amounts piled up right to the moment Few left Augusta.

This costly issue was dealt with in the media (to the chagrin of Few’s political allies). The County Administrator, Randy Oliver, felt the need to try and hold the Chief and the PIO accountable to the public and so he pursued collection. (Appendix DD) Chief Few only paid a fraction of what he owed for personal calls and Oliver endured flak from certain commissioners for "not protecting Ronnie Few" enough. Ms. Bryant was also dragged kicking and screaming into paying for her personal calls, firing off anguished memos about how unfair the situation had become. She too paid a mere fraction of the total she owed. This episode was another indication of how the Few regime operated with disregard for county finances and resources.

Rivercreek

The Fire

On December 19, 1999, a call went out to two engine companies and a ladder company to respond to a fire at Rivercreek Apartments on Center West Parkway. This particular Sunday, these three companies and a captain riding in charge of the battalion (replacing Battalion Chief Taylor, under suspension) were assisting at a flooded store in the Books-a-Million Plaza. The men were close enough to the apartments that they could see black smoke as they were putting on their gear. This was the last bit of good fortune the Augusta-Richmond County Fire and Rescue had regarding the Rivercreek fire. The rest was a combination of bad luck and poor decisions.

Rivercreek’s first problem trumped all others: the fire had a tremendous jump on the men before they arrived. Even if everything else had gone perfectly, it is debatable as to how many of the apartments could have been saved. As the companies rode into the apartment complex with so much fire and smoke showing, professional fire experts unanimously agreed that a second alarm should have been called immediately. Since the captain riding in charge of the battalion was with them, the men expected him to directly take over and make decisions. The captain arrived three minutes after the three companies. There is not a discernable moment on the 911 tapes where the second alarm was called. A battalion chief from Headquarters responded on his own to possibly help out. Upon arriving, he assessed the situation and called a second alarm. (A "second alarm" and subsequent alarm describes a pattern of more companies and personnel being sent to larger fires.)

During the progression of the fire, other difficulties came to pass:

Location of hydrants – The firemen are expected to know hydrant locations in their territory or, barring knowledge, check hydrant maps. On December 19, 1999, Engine #10 assumed Engine #9 would "catch" the correct plug. Unfortunately, Engine #9 caught a plug on Center West Parkway and not the nearest plug within the apartment complex. This resulted in low water pressure due to the friction in the hoses created by the distance water had to travel before getting to the pumper. This miscommunication, and a lack of hydrant knowledge, affected the ability to fight the fire effectively.

Equipment Management Failure – At the fire, Engine 10 was "cavitating," i.e. making a grinding sound due to lack of water in the pump. It was discovered that the pump operator had failed to open the intake valve for the incoming water, a basic responsibility for any pump operator. There were only seven men on the first three machines arriving at Rivercreek and the firefighter operating the malfunctioning pump was not the usual experienced operator. Rivercreek is another example of understaffing (and possibly poor training).

Neglect of the Essentials - When the aforementioned operator sent water to a hose (called "charging" the hose), the hose blew away from the pre-connect (the place where the hose hooks onto the pumper and stays connected at all times). Fire experts told the Special Grand Jury that pre-connects detaching at a fire is virtually unheard of. (After Rivercreek, Engine Company 10 was performing minimum standards training. When its hose was charged, it again blew away from the pre-connect.)

The situation at Rivercreek never went well for the Fire Service. With inadequate water and equipment failure, the fire was never well suppressed. Had they hooked to the closer hydrant and pumped that hydrant, perhaps there would have been the capability to preserve more property. And when Engine 10’s transmission broke down, the entire pumping system had to be reworked. If something could go bad, it did at Rivercreek. Even the Deputy Chief of Operations got lost, wandered into the parking lot of an adjacent complex and told officers to "come to incident command." He was then guided to the real incident command. The building was a total loss.

With such a devastating fire, it should be reasonably expected for Chief Few to perform his professional duties. He could have deconstructed the fire with his officers, led critiques, analyzed the problems and made a corrective plan! Instead, Chief Few directed his departmental resources to ignoble lows.

The Chief's Response

In the days after the fire, Chief Few was discomfited. He was not accustomed to the immediate and negative feedback from the media and the community. The complex’s manager, for example, was particularly vocal in her criticism of him and the department. Accordingly, Few’s first efforts were in the arena of damage control. On December 27th, he attended a meeting of the Public Safety Committee. The Chief blamed water pressure and aged equipment when questioned by the Mayor Pro Tempore. He artfully avoided issues like his performance, knowledge of hydrant location and the quality of the suppression.

The spin did not work. Victims attended public meetings. Letters and editorials were pointed. And more troubling for Few, the firefighters themselves were bitter and embarrassed: with the incident commander, the wreckage at Rivercreek and the excuses the Chief was giving. And they were also perplexed about how badly the department had been fighting apartment fires for the previous two years. At this point, the Chief decided to go on the offensive. Chief Few made a call to Arson Investigator G. B. Hannan.

On December 28th, Few called Hannan to his office, circumventing the chain of command and cutting Fire Marshal Joyner totally out of the scheme. Chief Few informed G. B. that the apartment manager’s harangue had become too effective. G. B. clearly understood his instructions to be "we need to shut her up," and he needed to "find everything" he could "wrong with Rivercreek," the complex, not the fire. The next day Hannan went to Rivercreek surreptitiously and started snapping pictures of things that had nothing to do with the fire. He took pictures of fire hydrants in and around the complex. He performed a code inspection to look for any violations. The rough data was turned over to PIO Katrice Bryant for shaping into a report.

The Cover-Up

The Augusta Fire Department published their report on the Rivercreek Fire on January 3, 2000, with Chief Few having final approval of the content. The report went in several directions. The first section addressed the fire tactics and had little to do with the fire. The report only mentioned actual firefighting to say that the public had a "misconception" about firefighting tactics. The public and the government never learned about missed hydrants, failed equipment and the omissions of incident command. Blame for the Rivercreek fire was foreshadowed when the report was sarcastically "dedicated" to the complex manager, Fran Hall. From Ms. Bryant and Chief Few’s perspective, there were several contributing factors, none Fire Department related. Their thesis was that the building burned down because of poor housekeeping and negligence on the part of Rivercreek staff and its builders. The sad truth about the Rivercreek report is that it is twisted in its interpretation of the data and its conclusions. (Appendix EE)


The report is filled with glossy pictures. There was a picture of piles of debris that Few and Bryant labeled as proof of "poor housekeeping." They neglected to point out that these were remnants of a major fire that burned out sixteen families and all of their possessions. They used pictures of a ravaged complex to claim the conditions resembled a "slum area." (It is interesting for a county employee to designate something a "slum"- what were their professional criteria?). Hannan also took pictures of a laundry room and a storage room, things that Building Ten did not even contain. Few and Bryant suggested in their report that problems with these inapplicable factors "contributed to the fire." There was also a picture of a hydrant that was labeled as not easily accessible or properly maintained by the complex owners. The problem was that the hydrant pictured was not on Rivercreek’s property and therefore not their responsibility. Another interesting aspect of the hydrant pictured in the report is that the department did not use it during the Rivercreek fire.

Lt. Hannan also inspected the complex for fire code violations (the Bureau typically only inspects apartment complexes over two stories). This inspection was distorted to prove the points that Few and Bryant were trying to make, namely that the complex tenants and their manager were to blame. The report found what they branded as "Life Safety Code Violations." The difficulty with these "violations" is that these codes were instituted more than a decade after the complex was built. A complex built around 1981 cannot be held accountable for violating codes from 1995 and 1997, which the report misleadingly did. Prior to this report, when the Bureau inspected a building, even one it would normally inspect, they did not go public with the results, negative or positive. They note deficiencies, cite and may even close unsafe buildings. Tax dollars should not be spent generating negative publicity for a legally constituted business. The Bureau exists to make the community a safer place, not to smear perceived enemies.

The Rivercreek report is somewhat noteworthy for its public misinformation. The Chief and his PIO stated that "a contributing factor" was that tenants were not properly instructed on the handling of ashes. The SGJ found (rather easily) that complex orientation packets included clear instructions for disposing ashes. (Appendix FF) Many of the several inaccuracies in the report are dealt with in the Randy Oliver report of June 2000 and will be discussed later. Few and Bryant "thanked" the tenants for requesting their report, but even Lt. Hannan began to distance himself when questioned by the press.

Give them their due. The Augusta Chronicle (and The Augusta Focus) regurgitated the report’s conclusions, not testing its facts (Clarissa J. Walker: January 5, 2000). (Appendix GG) Lt. Hannan tried to state that the codes the report cited might not have been actual violations, but the adverse stories still went to press. The next story in the paper quoted "a fire department source" saying that the complex manager, Fran Hall, had been fired. Documentation submitted to the SGJ showed she had actually resigned. (Appendix HH) Why is a county financed PIO commenting on the job status of a private citizen, let alone perpetrating a myth?

Nonetheless, the corporation owning Rivercreek became intimidated. Fearing bad publicity, they invited Lt. Hannan in to hold fire safety seminars at Rivercreek and other properties they owned in the CSRA. They dared not question the validity of the report. The public information coming out of One Tenth Street was not constrained by the limits of reality. The really sad factor in this saga is the fact that Rivercreek may have been an arsonist’s fire. While fire administration tied up the arson investigator, the bureau was not able to decide if there had actually been an arson committed. The primary suspect meanwhile flees the state and months later; the Fire Department offers a reward for information leading to his whereabouts.

With turmoil and controversy, in December 1999, the mayor called for Randy Oliver to produce a governmental report on the Rivercreek fire. (Appendix II) Oliver’s research into the fire indicated that the Few/Bryant January 2000 account of the fire was crippled by factual insufficiencies. Along with problems noted above, Oliver reported that hydrant water pressure was not an issue (as had been noted by Few and a commissioner). Water Department tests showed that water pressure at the complex was at an acceptable level. Oliver also reported that the mechanical failure of a pumper truck would give the appearance of low water pressure - another thing Few did not report.

The next area Oliver examined was the use of the Life Safety Codes. Oliver stated that the codes cited as violations were not applicable to Rivercreek. Oliver even included a message in his report from Licenses and Inspections Bureau stating that Rivercreek was built in compliance with all codes in effect at the time of construction. The Few/Bryant report mentions an unrated fire window causing massive destruction. But the Licenses and Inspections message clearly says that the Fire Department report misstates this part of the code and they checked with outside authorities that agreed with the Licensing and Inspection interpretation. The message concludes that the construction of the building had nothing to do with the destruction of the building by fire.

The next point Oliver addressed was the claim in the departmental report that the water line at Rivercreek did not have an acceptable meter for the size of the line. Oliver states that while this has been a problem at three other locations, it was not a problem at Rivercreek. Oliver declined to address the staffing concern at the fire along with the issues of missed hydrants and poor incident command. Seeing what the chief had authored (for government officials no less), Oliver decided to distance himself from the Few dissimulation which would explain why it took six months for Oliver to present his report in June 2000 and then quietly with only a dozen copies for commissioners.

Oliver’s lack of mettle may be understandable; he did not want the bilge of one more Few controversy raining down on his parade. What is the explanation for commissioners who, with Oliver’s report in their back pockets, tell the world that critics of Few’s regime were shallow racists? Why is their dialogue so impoverished that they seem incapable of describing the reality of the world around them? And whether it is the obscurity of ignorance, the violence of passion or inconstancy of will, why would Few and his administration act in this way? Few and Bryant’s intemperance ran the gamut: lying to the public and governmental officials, misuse of tax resources (turning the arson investigator and the PIO into agents of propaganda and dissemination), personal attacks on private citizens and intimidation of business owners. At no time did it occur to anyone that the Fire Service could have used this time and energy to deconstruct the fire in order to understand its deficiencies. Forget the Fire Service or the community; it was all personal. To quote a southern proverb, the Few-Bryant Rivercreek Report lied when the truth would have fit better.


The Media Phoenix Awards


The Media Phoenix Awards was another one of the Chief Few’s ideas to promote the department and himself. The stated objective was to raise money for the special projects of the department (transit house, fire safety house and fire education) and to improve the department’s relationship with local media. In theory, once a year, a meal would be served and awards given for news stories about fires, firemen and fire safety. The awards were placed under the leadership of the PIO, Katrice Bryant. In 1999 and 2000, letters went out soliciting the purchase of tickets or tables. The solicitations specifically named the projects that the money was going to benefit. The County Administrator gave his approval to the project, as long as no taxpayer money was spent on the ceremony and as long as the project took no significant work time from the department’s personnel. These strictures were quickly disregarded by Few and Bryant. The first violation of county policy was the opening of the account for the monies gathered for the awards.

The Opening of the Phoenix Media Checking Account

At this point, we need to highlight a critical issue about the awards: the opening of the Phoenix bank account. At no point were proper county procedures followed in opening and maintaining this account. For a department to properly open an Augusta-Richmond County governmental checking account, certain important steps are taken within clearly defined county policy and procedures. Official permission is gained in the form of a resolution passed by the Augusta-Richmond County Commission. This resolution contains pertinent details and authorizations, one of the more important details being the County tax I.D. number. This I.D. number identifies it as an official government account. Again, accounts with this number can only be opened with a resolution passed by the county commission. (Appendix JJ)



When the Phoenix Media Award account was opened in 1998, this policy was completely disregarded. Chief Ronnie Few approached a local bank on his own and opened an account using the county tax I.D. number. At no time did the Chief notify the county finance department of his action. According to signed and notarized bank documents obtained by the Special Grand Jury, Chief Few falsely represented the Augusta-Richmond Fire Department as an incorporated entity under the laws of the State of Georgia. In these documents, Chief Few declared himself "president" of this "corporation" with all the rights and authority thereof. At no time did he possess the proper resolution from the County Commission to open such an account. Only when the SGJ brought it their attention did the finance department and the county administrator become aware of the account’s existence. By opening this back-channel account, Chief Few avoided all proper finance department oversight and circumvented established purchasing procedures, i.e. the bid process.



Without this oversight, Few and Bryant maintained a slush fund that was used for whatever they saw fit. When they obtained goods and services for the ceremonies, they did not follow the purchasing policy of the county. Without having to obtain bids, Few and Bryant were able to spend whatever they wanted with whomever they wanted. As we will show, the monies left over were never used to benefit the Fire Department, but were used to burnish the image of Few in the community. The misuse of the county tax I.D. and the use of bank accounts as slush funds is a theme we will also see in the two conventions Few and Bryant oversaw. The opening and maintaining of the Phoenix account violated numerous policies and regulations of the county. Chief Few could not be bothered with following proper rules and procedures.

Other Problems

Problems plagued the 1999 and 2000 dinners from the beginning and eventually swallowed up what could have been a beneficial undertaking. Chief Few needed money. He first went to Jerry Newman, Director of the Southeastern Burn Foundation, in 1998, to use the Fire Department’s share of the 1998 joint boot drive as seed money for his Phoenix Media Awards. To his credit, Mr. Newman refused the request. Later, when the Southeastern Burn Foundation contributed more than $10,000.00 to the fire safety house, funding almost one-third (compared to zero for the Phoenix Media Awards), Few refused to display a sponsor’s plaque recognizing them and would not invite them to the dedication ceremony.

Many of the early problems could have been chalked up to gaining experience and getting the kinks out of the fund-raising venture, but in 1999, the Fire Department laid out more than $14,000.00 and had $1,200.00 left over. They had created no budget and had no goals of raising funds. Sacred Heart Cultural Center was rented while $9,000.00 was dedicated to catering. A paid MC (a friend of Chief Few’s) was brought in from East Point and put up in a motel. There was an expensive sound system (Appendix KK) and, indispensable whenever this group participated in greatness, Mustard Seed Video was there filming the event. A fundraiser is not complete without money spent on a Ronnie Few tribute video (titled Ronnie Few: Miracle Worker). In 1999, it did not succeed as a fundraiser nor was it much of a success at garnering media attention.

One of the ways fire administration secured more funds for these money-starved festivities was to shake down the vendors that do business with the Fire Department. Letters of solicitation were sent to companies that supplied fire trucks (Harless/Pierce) and fire equipment (Vallen). For their donations, they in turn, received special awards at the ceremony. Government officials, when apprised of this, testified to the SGJ that this was ethically wrong; government departments should not take gratuities from vendors. This appearance of impropriety was particularly acute when it came to Gold Cross Ambulance Service, which made a $9,000.00 contribution to the 2000 Phoenix Media Awards. It should be noted that Chief Few had plans to eventually take over the emergency ambulance service, and Gold Cross was hoping to take part in this contract. What could Gold Cross possibly gain by giving such an exorbitant sum? Was Few planning to reward them quid pro quo or was he merely playing Gold Cross as a dupe?

Fire administration completely ignored the lessons of the 1999 awards ceremony. With no budget and the usual administrative chaos, the situation was possibly worse in 2000. After racking up over $16,000.00 in expenses, they found themselves still about $5,000.00 short. Due to the extravagance of the production, Few approved a $4,000.00 "loan" from the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs convention checking account, which was under his stewardship. SEAFC was a little surprised later to find out about their generosity. The confusion of this co-mingling of funds is discussed in another section. The fundraiser itself now required fund raising.

In terms of the excesses regarding the two galas, the misuse of county personnel and misappropriation of county funds stands out. In disregard of Oliver, the number of county man-hours used for planning, soliciting and execution is incalculable. Combat firemen and administrative assistants were taken off line to perform menial chores like stuffing envelopes and decorating tables (even borrowing personnel from 911). The most obvious violation is of an ethical nature. While deliberately disobeying Oliver, Few and Bryant knowingly charged ceremony and convention expenditures to Fire Department accounts. (Appendix LL) When this use of tax dollars on convention and ceremony expenditures was pointed out to Chief Few by the concerned employee, Few responded by moving the traitor out of the office. (Appendix Y)


The sad discovery in all of this was that when the Phoenix Media Awards had money left over (more than $1,300.00 in 1999) they did not reimburse the county nor did they use those funds for any of the projects they had solicited money for. When Chief Few was solicited by several other causes deemed worthy, he dipped into the Phoenix Media Award account and granted donations. The fund gave monies to high school fundraisers, the Augusta Mini-Theatre and gifts and expenditures for office staff. Money was given to James Brown to help with turkeys and toys around the Holidays. The lady who sent a check to Katrice Bryant, "for your fire safety house," could reasonably complain about truth in advertisement (as could Randy Oliver who thought his department head was complying with his edicts). (Appendix MM)


The concept may have seemed "stellar," but did the Fire Service or anyone in the county, for that matter, benefit? The caterer was a friend of a commissioner. The Master of Ceremonies was a "Friend of Ronnie’s" and the Chief had a nice video tribute. The transit house, the fire safety house and public safety in general came through the Phoenix Media Awards without any benefit. And the county budget paid for untold man-hours and many materials. And all of this was a distressing portent of the conventions that Few and Bryant brought to town for "the benefit of Augusta."

The 1998 Joint Georgia Firefighters/ Fire Chiefs Conference


In August 1998, members of the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Rescue Administration volunteered to host and run a joint conference for the Georgia Association of Firefighters and the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs. Few assured both associations that he and his assistants had ample experience in running such conferences efficiently. Few and his confreres had never run a conference in Augusta and their inexperience rose to bite the Georgia State Firefighters Association (GSFA).

Fire administration agreed to split any and all profits with the GSFA having limited financial responsibilities. In the arrangement, the GSFA agreed to pay directly for two events at the conference, fire administration agreed to pay for the rest, while making the arrangements for everything. Chief Few opened a local bank account using the taxpayer I.D. of 39-1993787 and naming it "Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs." Both associations trusted that the locals would to do things responsibly and carefully. (Appendix NN)


What GSFA did not understand is that when it came to a flamboyant good time for everyone to see, the Augusta fire administration people were the champs. Ms. Bryant, still very new as PIO, erred on the side of expensive and expansive. For example, the GSFA personnel showed up in Augusta expecting to pay for a luncheon that usually had 50-60 people. Ms. Bryant doubled the expected number for the caterers, hit the GSFA up for another $1,225.00 and invited non-fire personnel (elected and governmental officials’ wives). Even with the extra invitees, there were still less than 50 people attending the luncheon. The PIO continued to spend money on spas, videos, tours and caterers. This would cause a budget crisis.

There was a strange occurrence during the conference concerning a vendor. Chief Few approached the vendor, who was displaying fire trucks, one night. Few reported he was running out of money and needed a donation to help buy more liquor for the hospitality room. The vendor vacillated, but Few persisted and got a $900.00 check. (Appendix OO (a)) There is no record as to what Few did with this money, but the vendor never received a public acknowledgement of his contribution. As a public official, and as the sponsor of this conference, Few was way out of line. He was extracting money from a potential county vendor and did not document it. It is unseemly for the chief to be begging money for liquor.

After the conference, the GSFA expected an accounting of monies spent. Chief Few told GSFA officers that Augusta was $5,873.91 short on their financial responsibilities and asked them to give him the money for the shortfall. GSFA realized there would be no profit that year and decided to bite the bullet and pay the $5,873.91, saving both sides any embarrassment. The only condition GSFA made was that Few should send them back an itemized account of where that money went. GSFA gave Few and Augusta $5,873.91 in good faith before leaving town. Over a period of several months, they sent many calls and letters to Few, but the GSFA is still waiting for an itemized accounting. (Appendix OO)

Not surprisingly, GSFA told the SGJ they would never come back to Augusta, and up until now, GSFA does not even know that Augusta Fire Administration had $2,700.00 of its money. Records show that Few did not need $5,873.00, but only had approximately $3,100.00 in outstanding bills. After paying those bills, instead of remitting some $2,700.00 back to GSFA and closing the account opened in Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs name, Few and company kept the money and operated the account for another three years.

The history of the GAFC account over the next three years is an interesting saga. Chief Few and Ms. Bryant used this secret account for a myriad of activities. The account was very philanthropic at times. The T.W. Josey Band received $100.00 (June 1998). Mr. James Riles received $82.00 for turkey give-away (November 1998). Many received: The Boys and Girls Club ($100.00, March 1999), Turning Point Restoration Ministry ($31.00 for an ad, October 1999), Westside High Dance Team ($50.00 June 1999), East Augusta Middle School ($50.00, May 1999), The Optimist Club ($73.00 for bicycles in April 1999). In the Optimist Club’s program, Chief Few was personally credited for the donation.

Some of the "GAFC" expenditures were more peculiar. In one instance, Administrative Assistant Donald McGahee was reimbursed for a $100.00 donation to a Cerebral Palsy fundraiser (March 30, 1999), although it was not cashed until July1, 1999. Then again on July 2, 1999, Mr. McGahee was given a check for $60.00 also for a Cerebral Palsy fundraiser (this was cashed the same day). No receipt from Cerebral Palsy was ever found nor any explanation for why the reimbursements were given. Chief Few himself received a reimbursement for making a charitable contribution. On December 21, 1999, a check was cut to Chief Few for $114.57 to replace a contribution given to the James Brown toy give-a-way. Chief Few should not have been reimbursed for making what appeared to be a personal contribution out of a secretly maintained account.

The GAFC account paid for other items. It paid for gifts for administration and other staff members. For example, there was Haverty’s in October 1998 for a ceramic fire truck (a gift), Things Remembered on October 2, 1998 for $27.81. Flowers were purchased from Fat Man's on October 2, 1998. There were other unusual purchases: A retirement gift ($66.00, October 1998), Boss’s Day card and gift ($53.00, October 1998 for Chief Few from Ms. Bryant). On July 29, 1999, Chief Carl Scott was given a $150.00 check for "community service day." 0n August 4, 1999, an $85.00 check was written to cash for "awards and certificates." Again, on August 4th, a check was written to K-Mart for $106.21 for "intern gifts." On August 4th, there was another check to K-Mart, $16.00 for gift bags. On August 8, 1999, there was $8.57 to Katrice Bryant (signed by K. Bryant). On August 19, 1999, a $44.95 check was written to Ronnie Few for a "clergy meeting." On August 23, 1999, there was a $63.11 check to Carl Scott for "lunch for command class." On August 23, 1999, there was a check to Bi-Lo for $11.40 for "I/M Class." On August 27, 1999, there was a $27.79 check to Kroger for a "meeting."

There was more money taken from the GAFC account. On November 4, 1999, there was a $45.00 check for "gift of bereavement." A January 29, 1999 check was to Charles Jones for $125.00 for "deposit for photography." A February 23, 1999 check was written to cash for $70.00 for "awards and certificates." On March 9, 1999, a check was written to Paradise Printing for $146.05 for "party favors." An October 30, 1998 check went to Kroger for $2.06. Another October 30th check was written to Wal-Mart for $51.60, no reason was noted, but administrative assistant Barbara West presented it for payment with Katrice Bryant’s signature. Another October 30th check was written to Wal-Mart for $147.95, again, no reason listed and Barbara West presented it with Katrice Bryant's signature for reimbursement. On November 17, 1998, a check was written to "Mr. Bennett" for $100.00 with no reason listed and also signed by Katrice Bryant.

The most curious check of all was written for $96.26 on October 10, 1998 to Wal-Mart for a microwave. Katrice Bryant signed the check and Barbara West took it to Wal-Mart and purchased the microwave (for fire’s administrative office use). Now it gets more confusing. Chief Few dictated a memo to Barbara West requesting the county finance department to reimburse Barbara West. Chief Few falsely claimed that Mrs. West had paid for the microwave out of personal funds and that she needed to be paid back. (Appendix PP) According to an audit done for the Special Grand Jury, the county cut a check to Mrs. West. Thus, secret funds were used to buy an item the county would normally not pay for (it should be noted that out in the fire stations the men pay for their own microwaves, if they want one, with no county reimbursement). The Chief then lied to get the secret fund reimbursed. But, as the audit shows, Chief Few was often fast and loose with "reimbursements."

Chief Few, in many ways, saw himself as a visionary. He had plans and schemes that would theoretically make Augusta look good, but often chaotic in its execution. The Georgia Association Fire Chiefs/Georgia Association of Firefighters joint conference was a botch job. Bryant and Few were in over their heads from the start. The planning was extravagant so as to impress the visitors with the vision of Chief Few rather than Augusta. Then, by not being able to pay the bills, the reputation of Augusta was tarnished statewide in fire department circles. There were vows of never coming back to Augusta as long as Ronnie Few was chief.

The biggest embarrassment had to be the use of the conference bank account as a slush fund. By hoodwinking sponsoring agencies out of extra money and using it for personal gain, Few and Bryant violated every known ethical standard. The misuse of a taxpayer I.D., the reimbursement fiasco and the trail of checks for gifts and the like demonstrate a shocking lack of regard for all that is proper and correct. The only benefits were personal. Augusta received only ignominy. Few and Bryant would have even greater problems themselves with the 2000 Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs Conference.


The SEAFC Conference 2000


With all of the foul ups and headaches generated by the 1998 joint conference, one would think Chief Few would have learned his lesson. In May 1999, Few decided to take a bigger bite of the apple and volunteered to host the 2000 Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs (SEAFC) conference. This group is made up of chiefs across the southeastern U.S. Few told SEAFC that he and his department had hosted numerous successful conferences and could provide SEAFC with an enjoyable time in the year 2000.

After enlisting support from the Mayor, the County Administrator and the Convention Bureau, Few was given the responsibility by SEAFC to host the 2000 conference. The County Administrator told Chief Few it would be okay, but he could not use county funds for the convention. He could use some of his employees on county time to organize this effort, but Few was told that it could not encroach on normal fire department operations. Unfortunately, as with so many incidents with Few, what is normal?

Few entered into an agreement with SEAFC to host their conference. The parties agreed to split all profits or share any losses equally (previous conferences had all been profitable). Few was to follow all SEAFC rules and guidelines and provide constant updates to SEAFC. Agreements were signed with Few and SEAFC. Then, the Chief installed Katrice Bryant as overall coordinator of the convention effort, reporting directly to him. Bank accounts would be opened locally to handle the registration and sponsorship monies, expenses would be paid out of these funds. Historically, this was how things had always worked for SEAFC in previous conferences, but the Augusta conference proved to be a different reality.

Convention Committees

Bryant created numerous convention committees and asked for volunteers to man them. As committees began to meet, volunteers found that this convention was going to be a major commitment; the vision of Few and Bryant for this conference would consume tons of time. And with their proclivity towards grandiosity, Few and Bryant created a monster that was soon out of their control and the mandate of not letting the convention impede normal department functioning was quickly dashed.

The entire department was told for the next year the SEAFC Convention was going to be a priority. Eventually even people who had not volunteered were also given convention responsibilities. The Conference began to consume more and more of the department’s attention. Bryant spent the majority of her work time organizing convention events. The twelve Battalion Chiefs were given convention-planning duties. Administrative assistants were given convention duties so much that new assistants were hired. People were moved from their jobs as dispatchers to help with these efforts. Bryant conscripted the Fire Bureau Marshall to head up sales for the conference program ads. Joyner felt so pressured to sell ads he began sending his inspectors out on county time to solicit money from the very merchants they also had to inspect. As the convention drew nearer more people were used, while regular duties were neglected and folks in fire administration piled up loads of compensatory time, which would cause future neglect of duties.

With all this time and effort the whole operation should have been impeccable, but the just opposite was true. There was a lack of direction and a true objective. Ms. Bryant pointedly eschewed expert assistance from SEAFC officials; stating to a local hotelier that this was "Ronnie Few’s conference" and "he was going to get all the credit." The conference became a faux Mardi Gras: parades, costume parties, movies, prizes, complimentary gift baskets, golf, spas, barbecues, a formal dress banquet, bus tours and a huge souvenir booth loaded with merchandise. It seemed that the educational part of the conference (which is the main reason professional organizations have conferences - to share information) was swallowed up by the glitz; so much that taxpayers had to pony up tens of thousands of dollars for an extravaganza for 147 people.

The failure to have a planned and written budget was a critical mistake. With no financial plan and no effort to get estimates before ordering items, there never was an idea of just how much could be spent. Money flowed out freely and there was no thought to long-term effects. When the final bills came due, the money was gone. The extravagance started with all the little extras and the chaos was compounded by the financial shell games they were constantly playing.

Money Transfers

As discussed earlier, there was the Phoenix Media checking account that was opened illegally (and clandestinely) with the county tax I.D. number. In Spring 2000, Few and Bryant realized that they were going to be short of money for that year’s Media Phoenix Awards which always happens when you spend extravagantly and pay out more than you take in. So now there was this money just sitting there in the SEAFC account, waiting for the upcoming conference. Chief Few then directed a convention co-treasurer (after the other refused on ethical grounds) to write a $4,000.00 check out of the SEAFC account to the Media Account for the Media Awards. SEAFC was never consulted about this "loan" made from their coffers. Check # 316, dated April 14, 2000 for $4,000.00 has no description in the check register (it’s the only entry left blank in the whole check register). This check was then deposited into the Media Account with neither thanks to SEAFC for their largesse nor arrangements to pay them back.

Later, Ms. Bryant explained this highly irregular move and several other related money shifts to the mayor and the media in an extremely convoluted manner. (Appendix QQ) This "report" tried to explain the money shift and stated that sponsor monies from both the convention and Media Awards were co-mingled. With all of this movement, Ms. Bryant made the bold claim that the convention actually owed the Media Account money! Even following that explanation and its fuzzy math, it appears that SEAFC was shorted at least $4,500.00. Even with a county employee (Bryant) essentially working full time for SEAFC on Augusta’s tab, Few and Bryant refused to be organized. They had no overall plan or a coherent budget. Moreover the $4,000.00 transfer is suspicious by itself, but the thin explanation given by Bryant casts even more doubt on their intentions. In the end $4,000.00 was removed from SEAFC funds and put into an account that was opened illegally and completely unknown to the county. No attempt to rectify this situation was ever made. Because these actions are not responsible, ethical behaviors, they were done on the sly.

Out of Control Spending

A study of convention purchases shows an excessive, even wasteful, spending pattern. Bryant and her subordinates ordered such things as $2,121.00 for chocolate on March 24, 2000, $4,150.00 for entertainment on April 25, 2000, over $11,000.00 for catering and over $5,000.00 for various "entertainment" expenses. With the costs of "gifts," such as baskets for $1,425.00 and speaker fees for his mentor Carl Holmes ($1,500.00), Few allowed the money to flow quickly. Bryant was also running a hotel and food tab at the Radisson for over $25,000.00. This conference was quickly becoming an "event" and still there was no financial plan or budget. They had no true idea of income and no restraints on spending. So it is no surprise that the ordering of merchandise to sell at the convention also became a botch job, both monetary and personal.

The idea of selling souvenirs to make extra money came from Ms. Bryant. She placed Captain Linda McDonald in charge of the effort. McDonald contacted a local merchant, Dan Cook and Associates, who specializes in souvenirs. Capt. McDonald got a price list, catalogue and samples and showed them to Few and Bryant. Later, a representative from Dan Cook came and met with Few, Bryant and McDonald to discuss the order. After seeing the items (hats, pens, portfolios, key chains, T-shirts, denim shirts, coffee mugs and other paraphernalia) Bryant and Few personally decided on the quantities to be ordered. (Appendix RR) In fact, they ordered $23,000.00 worth of merchandise. The plan was to sell most of the items, but they also placed things like the hats, pens, portfolios and shirts in gift baskets to be given to conference attendees. The situation was totally unorganized and soon would spin out of control.

When the convention rolled around, McDonald was placed in charge of the souvenir booth. She soon began to notice that merchandise was missing. People in position, such as the wife of Chief Few, would come down to the booth and get stacks of items to give away and told volunteers not to worry about payment. Then some of Chief Few’s friends from Atlanta sent word down, requesting items, and people manning the booth were again told not to worry about payment. By the end of the convention there was little that had been sold and much that had been given away free. The department now had many unsold items left over and a big bill coming due from Dan Cook and Associates.

Ms. Bryant finally realized, during the convention, that their finances were in a free fall. The turnout was very sparse for a regional conference. They had spent lavishly and they had to start cutting things. Bryant was in charge of the hotel arrangements, and when she saw things were out control she started to alter expenses, even during the conference. For example, the final surf ‘n’ turf dinner immediately lost the surf. On the surface they were proclaiming the conference a triumph. Chief Few was heading to Washington, but now some of the vendors were actually looking for payment for their products and services.

The first sign of trouble in the Garden City was when the hotel bill hit the papers. The Radisson found their bill was not getting paid and, despite several phone calls, Katrice refused to return the calls. When she did finally contact the Radisson, Ms. Bryant claimed a bogus tax exemption for the conference sponsors. She used the tax-exempt status of ARC, a privilege given to a county and their employees when they travel in state or purchase items for the county, to get the sales tax taken off of rooms provided for the out-of-town guests of the conference. This robbed the county of tax revenue, used a county privilege for private citizens and still the bill had not been fully paid.

The hotel finally wrote the mayor for help. This became a public relations nightmare and started the finger pointing. SEAFC was forced to chip in about $3,000.00 to the hotel bill, while the Fire Department emptied the convention coffers to pay the balance. Chief Scott then promised SEAFC that the Fire Department would take care of the entire souvenir bill. Other vendors were also asking for payment. Chief Scott, left holding the bag with the departure of Few (and then Bryant), began to scramble madly. As vendors asked for payment, he sent a memo to them to bill SEAFC even though the SEAFC lawyers told him they would not pay. But the worst treatment was reserved for Dan Cook & Associates and for one of the Fire Department’s own.

The representative from Dan Cook was Michelle Thompson. She had to collect payment or else she would be responsible for the balance. Yet, when she attempted to collect the $23,000.00, she ran into many obstacles. Ms. Bryant would not take her calls and there are records of many calls being placed. Invoices of merchandise that Bryant and Few had approved were copied and faxed to Bryant. Ms. Thompson even kept copies of minutes of meetings that clearly state Few and Bryant decided on cost, style and quantity of the souvenirs. Bryant neither acknowledged the faxes sent to her nor messages left on her voice mail. She claimed to have no knowledge of this situation, placing the blame squarely on Captain Linda McDonald.

Bryant decided to raise money by selling the excess souvenirs. She did this by running an item (with an accompanying drawing of someone in jail) in the Siren saying that Capt. McDonald was in peril of being forced to work in a "the sewing factory for the T-shirt Company" for over ordering. So people should buy things to "help save Captain McDonald!" (Appendix SS) Unfortunately, McDonald was never consulted as to whether she would consent to this "humorous" and misleading selling technique. The ad was also placed on the department website. When McDonald protested about the public embarrassment, all she received was a letter from Ms. Bryant blaming McDonald for misunderstanding.

When it became public knowledge that the souvenir bill was not being paid, the mayor asked for an accounting. Ms. Bryant wrote the mayor an inaccurate narrative about the souvenir purchases. She claimed that she, Few, and the co-treasurer had no knowledge of or input into the ordering of the merchandise and its cost. Bryant claimed that she did not know McDonald had spent so much money and also that she and the co-treasurer had never seen any invoices. (Appendix QQ) Under oath, the co-treasurer contradicted these statements. In the GBI raid of 2000, a notebook, belonging to Ms. Bryant, was found and there was a list of souvenirs, quantities and prices in her own handwriting. (Appendix BB) Ms. Bryant misstated the facts in order to place the blame on the Captain. Clearly she had participated in the ordering of the souvenirs and the bill still was not getting paid.

As this and the Phoenix Awards transfer became public, Ms. Bryant became hard to find, and like the Chief, soon resigned and left town. A bill for $2,700.00 for the video shoot of the convention was not getting paid and this company was also not receiving payment. It all came crashing down on Interim Chief Carl Scott who had to figure out what to do. After consulting a county commissioner (Lee Beard) on what to do, an inventory was taken. For some reason, the commissioner instructed the county purchasing director and her staff to assist in inventorying items (that were not even county property). After Purchasing counted the items, they realized that more was given away than sold. Chief Scott tried to help and took it upon himself to hawk souvenirs, hoping to close the gap on the $26,000.00 deficit. He stood up at a department heads meeting and asked folks to buy convention souvenirs at "special prices." He even tried to sell items to the firemen, including a battalion chief at a grievance hearing concerning his merit evaluation.

The convention bills were becoming a news item with lawyers filing suit so the county was facing a quandary. The Commissioners pushed for a deal. They were able to convince Dan Cook & Associates to settle for $18,000.00, and got SEAFC to split this bill with the county. They also settled the $2,700.00 video bill paying it in full. The taxpayers were therefore obliged to eat the costs of a private function. The County Commissioners apparently felt it necessary to pay the bills for Ronnie Few’s arrogant and irresponsible folly to avoid embarrassing him and Few walked away unscathed. A convention that was never meant to cost ARC a thing, and was supposed to enhance its image, ended up having a high monetary cost and was disastrous to the city’s public profile.

Defrauding SEAFC

Another odd fact came out of the financial situation of the convention. Chief Few’s daughter was getting married in Augusta shortly after the convention. An examination of the convention checkbook showed payments to a Derrick Monk, a local singer, for entertainment at the convention. The payments consisted of: a check for $300.00 on February 28, 2000, a check for $850.00 on March 16, 2000 and a check to "cash" for $1,500.00(of which records state $1,300.00 went to Mr. Monk (Appendix HHH)). Mr. Monk then performed at the Few wedding a month after the convention. Auditors for the special SGJ discovered only one contract for Mr. Monk and it listed the date of the wedding as the event for pay. A note was written that another contract would be submitted, but no other contract was ever discovered. In testimony before the SGJ, Mr. Monk stated to have no knowledge of any paperwork existing and could not explain his fees. He was unclear as to what events he was paid for and for how much (he also was paid for performing at the Media Awards out of the Media account). He never provided a direct response, on repeated questioning, whether he was or was not paid separately for performing at the wedding. The SGJ has been unable to find any evidence that Richmond County taxpayers did not pay for entertainment at the Few wedding and can only conclude that the taxpayers did pay for it directly or indirectly through the financial boondoggle of the convention.

Gypping the County

The City Administrator had told Few he could host the convention so long as the county bore no financial responsibility. Few soon forgot this admonition and did not appreciate being reminded of it. Case in point, an administrative assistant informed Few in a memo that convention costs were being charged directly to the Fire Department budget (as well certain costs for the Media Awards). Everything combined, the employee found over $4,500.00 improperly charged to the county. (Appendix Y) This is the employee we mentioned that was labeled by co-workers as "disloyal" and was moved out of administration by Few. Auditors for the SGJ later confirmed her findings and found other convention expenses charged to the taxpayers of ARC. At this point, Few was doubly disloyal, he never looked out for the interests of the county and insouciantly punished his employee for being vigilant in her duties.

Convention Conclusion

Few always justified and hyped conferences as a way to enrich the department and its prestige, as well as raising the profile of the community of Augusta. As a side benefit, he said that Augusta’s economy, and the department specifically, would gain financially. After close examination, none of these claims ever came to pass. The department and the community never found its reputation enhanced. Instead these pathetic attempts at staging professional conferences made the Fire Department a laughingstock amongst its peers. Two professional organizations, the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs and the Georgia Association of Firefighters, left town with a bad taste in their mouths and their wallets lighter. And the unpaid bills from the SEAFC conference even made national news. So Few did raise Augusta’s profile, but it was less than a positive profile.

Instead of increasing our coffers, Few always cost the county money with his conventions. The only beneficiary was Ronnie Few and his personal longings. Secret bank accounts, shady financial transfers, money siphoned from the county and the professional organizations he was supposed to defend and represent; it was done solely in his quest for more celebrity. Then, there is all of the human capital expended in the months leading up to these events. In essence, Few changed the focus of department personnel in those seasons to that of purveyors and stagers of "galas." In these seasons, there was confusion within the department and bitterness at being used as stagehands and props. Sadly, the men realized that Few’s quote upon his arrival, "You are here to make me look good." had come to pass. It was no longer the Fire Department, but the Few Department.

These were ignoble undertakings that dampened the morale and it was even more depressing when the men realized that Few could essentially do whatever he wanted. Few never received any rebuke. Instead, the commissioners paid his bills and energetically covered up his ethical indiscretions. The convention ideas were unmitigated failures, but Few declared victory and moved to Washington D.C. while the department dealt with the aftermath.


The Budget Problems


Chief Few was perennially worried about the limits of his departmental budget and his ability to do the things he felt needed to be done. There were credible reasons to be concerned: there was a legislatively instituted cap that limits the number of tax dollars the department could receive via the fire protection millage rate. There are two rates, one for the old city and the other for the old county, and that made up the fire budget. The Fire Department also receives a portion of the homeowners’ insurance premiums in the county. The tax cap limited the departmental budget to the point where administration was constantly expressing fear about having adequate resources. This makes Chief Few’s profligate spending and supercilious decisions even more damaging.

Preliminary Fire Audit

Attached is the preliminary audit (Appendix TT) authorized for the Special Grand Jury regarding Fire Department expenses during the Few era. The audit found a litany of abuses in the areas of financial responsibility and proper procedure. Here are some of the larger issues.


  1. Travel
  2. . Under travel, one will notice numerous violations of proper protocol and policies and procedures. Chief Few and Katrice Bryant were consistently cavalier and sloppy in handling their professional responsibilities: poor or absent documentation, double billing, bogus reimbursements, incomplete files and an overall misuse of funds (too much travel and, in some cases, Few and Bryant were even paid for travel expenses while on leave). Chief Few and Ms. Bryant came out in the audit as frequent fliers of compensation abuse.


  3. Local Conferences
  4. . While we spoke of specific conferences in greater detail elsewhere, here are some of the low lights found in the audit. A review of checking accounts for two of the events showed discrepancies between amounts invoiced and amounts paid to vendors. Often there were no invoices to match expenditures. There were forged and/or unauthorized signatures on checks. Conference expenses were charged to the county. And there was an amazing lack of documentation and scarcely any budgetary preparation.


  5. Bids
  6. . With various bids, such as fire equipment, the low bid was not taken.


  7. Review of Purchase Orders.
  8. The audit found a large number of invoices, requisitions and receipts missing. The audit also found furniture and equipment not assigned asset numbers and purchase orders issued after the items had already been received. Suspicious furniture purchases were also made.


  9. Executive Development Institute (EDI).
  10. There was a cozy relationship between Katrice Bryant, Ronnie Few and Carl Holmes (head of EDI). Evidence suggests that both Few and Bryant were instructors for EDI/Carl Holmes. Holmes was paid to conduct seminars for the Fire Department and local conventions. Meanwhile, Few and Bryant may have been acting as instructors for EDI (therefore getting a stipend and other considerations) at conferences the county paid for them to attend.


  11. Bob Mowles & Associates.
  12. This is the firm that was awarded the contract to handle the promotional process under Chief Few. Mr. Mowles is a former co-worker of Carl Holmes. The audit showed some questionable travel expenses for the assessors that Few provided. Travel expenses were built into the contract, yet Few requested reimbursement for the costs of meals. Most of the reimbursements were made out to Few personally. The cost of the meals were excessive, included alcohol, and there was a lack of documentation.


  13. Atlanta Health Systems.
  14. $20,292.03 was paid for "Wellness Programs" which were seldom used. The SGJ was disturbed to find that the vendor was an old acquaintance of Chief Few’s from East Point rather than a local company (and the SGJ also discovered the amount spent was higher).

The audit also covered areas that the SGJ will cover in detail later. The results of the preliminary audit would likely offend the average citizen, but after long hours of study we were less than scandalized and, in fact, found many other financial improprieties.

Other Financial Misconduct

The role of fire chief, as with any department head, carries with it certain responsibilities. Among them fiscal responsibility is paramount. A department’s budget should be used to further the mission of the Fire Service, which is to protect the community. These monies should be expended to support the firefighters in doing their jobs. Under Few, the budget often went to projects that did little in terms of protecting the community. Many in fact were little more than vanity projects. With this mindset, the fire budget under Few leaked money like a sieve.

There seemed to be an insatiable need for publicity. Under Few, $10,052.05 was spent on photographic equipment and film developing. The SGJ discovered numerous photo albums in fire administration featuring such images as parties and celebrations; candid shots of Few and Bryant, various speeches and out of town seminars with Carl Holmes. Many of the photos were self-worshipful in nature, depicting members of administration in dramatic poses. Even slides were prepared of many of these events. These were all then kept in albums right outside of the Chief and PIO offices. Again the question is WHY? Why is the county buying so much camera equipment? While there is definitely a need for the arson investigator to have a camera, why did the PIO and the chief’s driver get expensive cameras? There was even a piece of video equipment purchased (a video image stabilizer) that cannot be found. While many areas of the department had glaring needs, Few spent freely documenting his tenure.

Chief Few had grand tastes when it came to chronicling his transformation of the fire department. One of his more lavish vehicles was the biannual report, prepared under his direction by the PIO. (Appendix UU) Close to $4,500.00 went toward preparing a multi-colored booklet trumpeting Few and his accomplishments. For a department of just over 350 people, Few had 1,000 copies made. When asked why, the Chief and PIO both said they wanted the community to know about their department. When asked how many copies were distributed to the local populace, they said none. Why? Because no one had asked for copies. Yet, it was never announced to the public they had such a report. In Augusta, only politicians and the department received copies. The bulk of these glossy productions were mailed out-of-town to impress friends and associates. Few and Bryant stated that the reports were sent out in an effort to advertise the department on a wider scale. Since municipal fire protection cannot be sold, it appears that this was about Ronnie Few selling himself (with lots of pictures).

Then there was the Fire Department newsletter (called the Siren) (Appendix VV). The erstwhile purpose of this publication (another duty created for the PIO) was to unify the department and keep firefighters informed. The Siren (another glossy, multicolored publication) cost the county $15,474.00 in just over two years (not including the postage to mail out 500 copies per issue). A close study of the various issues found that it often promoted Few and his point of view. When the SGJ began investigating, articles soon appeared about such topics as "us versus them," "rumor monsters" and loyalty. Instead of informing the department, the newsletter attempted to sway the department. Also, no thought was given to doing this in-house, on a smaller (and less extravagant) scale. Few wanted top shelf stuff to show off the department.

Another area that became needlessly extravagant was the department’s Honor Guard. The Honor Guard has been around in some form for years in the pre-consolidation county fire department. Few decided to formalize it and placed it under the command of a firefighter. He wanted it, like most of his projects, to be special. Besides the cost of supplying special outfits and accessories, the Honor Guard was given "extras." The leader decided they needed sunglasses to complete their ensemble. They bought twelve pairs of Ray Bans for $480.00 that the men wore at events and kept for personal use. (Appendix WW) Then there were the bagpipes. Someone decided that the department should have a bagpiper to accompany the Honor Guard, so they went out and spent $1,625.00 on bagpipes and companion equipment. (Appendix XX) Since very few people can play the instrument, it sits mostly in storage. The point is that while the department cannot find money for modernizing stations with things like computers, taxpayers supply the Honor Guard with fancy sunglasses, kilts and uniforms. There was no set logic in terms of financial priorities.

Few spread the wealth in other ways. He decided to have special watches made up with the emblem of the fire department on the face. A purchase order was cut for $1,500.00 on June 4, 1999 for these designer timepieces. (Appendix YY) To the SGJ, he claimed that these were purchased to be given to retirees, yet no retirees ever received these as gifts. Chief Few, Katrice Bryant, the Honor Guard and favored others got to wear this exclusive jewelry, another inappropriate use of tax funds. Also, there were strange charges made to Lynn’s Card Company in 1998. On June 12, 1998, there was a $434.00 charge for "cards." On August 21, 1998, there was a $196.00 charge for "cards." Why the fire department spent $630.00 in two months for "cards" is a mystery. Then in 2000, there was a $1,446.00 charge from World Gym. Again, one must ask why? In a department that claimed it had to squeeze every dollar, Few was insouciant when it came to having glamorous touches around him.

Few and Bryant videotaped many of their moments and usually used a company called Mustard Seed Video. There were a plethora of events to be taped for posterity. On August 28, 1998, there was a $250.00 charge for the balance on a video presentation. On February 23, 1999, there was a $513.75 charge for "fire department video." A look at a Mustard Seed invoice shows this was a charge for taping the Georgia Firefighters/Fire Chiefs convention in 1998. The County Administrator had forbid this charging of conference costs to the county. Few was able to finesse them through with the help of Purchasing, and the taxpayers got clipped. On January 2, 1999, there was a charge of $50.00 for VHS dubs. An invoice on May 18, 1999 shows a $91.00 charge for the same thing. On June 29, 1999, there was a $132.50 charge for a Southeastern Firefighters Convention video. Convention costs were never to be paid by the county, but Few pushed them through anyway. (Appendix ZZ)

On August 26, 1999, there was a charge of $25.00 for VHS dubs of Welcome to Augusta videotape. On October 12, 1999, there was a $182.50 charge for a Safety Parade video. On December 28, 1999, there was a $382.50 charge for a "public service message" video. On January 7, 2000, there was a $403.75 charge for a fireworks demo/Y2K videotape and a Transit/Safety House video. On January 21, 2000, there was a $947.50 charge for three videos: Fire Safety public service, Christmas tree public service and skits for a TV program (that never came to fruition). On March 3, 2000, there was a $255.00 charge for taping a SEAFC "board meeting" (a charge that was not supposed to be made to the county). On April 17, 2000, there was a $127.50 charge for a Mosely interview (for Few’s proposed cable TV show). Also on April 17th, there was a charge for $250.00 for the Media Phoenix Awards public service announcement. On the same date, there was a purchase order for a Phoenix Awards Video clip tape for $400.00. On April 19, 2000, there was a charge of $340.00 for the Phoenix Awards Banquet video (another charge that the county, since the Media Awards were not a county event, was not supposed to pay for).

In 2000, Mustard Seed was forced to threaten legal action to get paid for their work on the SEAFC convention. Few and Bryant had run up video charges during the convention. They had the convention taped thoroughly and then made a highlight tape. Numerous copies of this tape were made for distribution (why? and for whom?). When the convention monies ran out, the county was left holding the bag. When the Commission decided to settle with Mustard Seed for $2700.00, the Few era came to a close in ARC.

The SGJ subpoenaed the Mustard Seed videos. They are an interesting compendium of images of Few: tributes, histories and announcements, all starring Ronnie Few. As we mentioned earlier, one tribute video was paid for by the county to fete Ronnie at the Media Phoenix Awards (Ronnie Few: Miracle Worker). It was recycled a year later for Few’s private farewell dinner, with new graphics added (county financed) congratulating him for his move to D.C. The tab on videos is $7,051.00 and inexplicable. Why would we pay money for public service announcement that could have been free? Why are we taping parties, parades and private board meetings? And why does the Fire Department have to pay for a tribute to its own chief? The claims were, ". . . we are going to modernize the department . . ." and "we are going to move into the 21st century." Well, just do it and stop wasting our money to raise the perception you are actually doing something.

Another thing that enamored Chief Few was a motivational speaker. Few felt it was county money well spent to bring in people who would get his crews’ minds right in terms of his vision. One of the questionable speakers was Joe Heckstall. He was a personal friend of Chief Few’s from East Point and a Georgia political figure. On March 5, 1999, Mr. Heckstall was given $2,500.00 for a "motivational training seminar" held on March 17, 1999. (Mr. Heckstall was also hired that spring to host the Media Phoenix Awards held by the department. He was paid out of a secretly maintained account previously discussed). Mr. Heckstall was later back in Augusta re-motivating the men for another $1,000.00 on September 9, 1999 (along with $62.00 for lodging at the Radisson Suites Inn). Those who attended had mixed reviews on his entertainment value, but none felt he had helped the county in fighting fires. At best, it was a waste of taxpayer money, at worst; it has the appearance of an impropriety. (Appendix AAA)

Mr. Heckstall was not the only Few friend and associate to be profit from public money. The man who received the greatest beneficence from Chief Few was his mentor (and employer) Carl Holmes of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Mr. Holmes is a former fire chief who traveled to Augusta to give seminars for Carl Holmes and Associates that were a mix of departmental "team building" and goal setting sessions. Few claimed only Holmes could supply this type of quality education, but there are serious ethical issues in this. When Few brought Holmes to Augusta in 1997, 1999 and 2000, he failed to disclose that he himself was an instructor for the Carl Holmes Executive Development Institute (EDI- a series of seminars held by Mr. Holmes at Dillard University and various fire departments around the country). This was clearly a conflict of interest. Few certainly should have declared his outside relationship with a man he was giving lucrative sole source contracts. This has been a recurring problem that followed Chief Few to Washington, D.C. Ironically, the SGJ found from talking to experts (as did officials in D.C.) that Mr. Holmes’ teaching was not "cutting edge" and could be had from state and national fire academies, for free. Many shared with the SGJ that the Holmes experience was filled with clichés and hackneyed factoids. The cost to the county was outrageous.

In his first year (1997) Few brought Mr. Holmes to Augusta twice. The cost of the first session was $6,200.00, plus $500.00 for food (no receipts submitted). Later that year, Holmes was then given another $3,000.00. In 1999, Mr. Holmes was paid $6,000.00 for more "training." Then in 2000, Mr. Holmes obtained another $6,000.00 from the county for even more "team building." Throughout, Few never disclosed his outside association with Holmes. The audit for the SGJ found documentation stating Few and Katrice Bryant were both instructors for Holmes and his Institute. There is concern that Few and Bryant were often working for Holmes while away at conferences that the county paid for their travel and time. The greater problems occur when the content of the Carl Holmes training content is examined. (Appendix BBB)

When the SGJ inquired about the quality of Holmes’ training, most felt that the first time around it was okay, but with the repetition, the value was greatly diminished. The most common revelation was that, in four years, Holmes repeated the same things over and over: the same stories, the same exercises, the same jokes from year to year. When the SGJ attended some Holmes sessions, we discovered it was true. At one point, he sat with the SGJ during a group exercise. Asked if he was not too busy to sit with us, he replied, "No, I’m on cruise control."

Few never wasted an opportunity to bring Holmes to town. Every conference that was held, Few arranged for Holmes to speak and receive a fee. Few would present Holmes with gifts and had numerous pictures taken with him. Few never told the county or the sponsoring agencies that he had these outside connections with Holmes. Holmes also benefited from Few and our county in other ways.

Holmes runs a yearly, weeklong training session in New Orleans at Dillard University, the aforementioned Executive Development Institute. As a training seminar, EDI is open only to African-Americans (as stated by Holmes himself in a videotape obtained by the SGJ). Chief Few encouraged some Augusta firefighters to attend EDI as a way to advance their careers. The men paid their fees to EDI and went to Dillard, taking vacation and, in a couple of situations, sick leave. In the end, Few was essentially recruiting students for Holmes and EDI, thus increasing the profits for Holmes. Meanwhile, the department was more understaffed during EDI. Few eased minimum coverage levels so that it would be easier to release those attending the seminar. There were still other benefits that Mr. Holmes derived from Augusta.

When EDI rolled around, Few and Ms. Bryant produced a great deal of material, on county time, for EDI. The audit for the SGJ found at least two instances where Katrice Bryant sent packages to EDI via FedEx and billed it to the county. They also ordered EDI materials through a local printer, Miller Printing. (Appendix CCC) In the year 2000, there were five different items for Carl Holmes that Miller Printing handled. The invoices were sent to Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department, attention Katrice Bryant. On April 7, 2000, there was a charge of $487.00 for gold foil letterhead stationery for Carl Holmes and Associates. On April 12, 2000, there was a charge for $225.00 for catalogues and $51.00 charge for EDI graduation invitations. On April 13, 2000, there was a $192.00 charge for envelopes. On May 2, 2000, there was a $1,779.00 charge for full color EDI brochures. Accounting’s vigilance seemed to prevent the county from paying these bills (Accounting refused Purchasing’s attempt to push this through). By ordering materials through a government agency, Carl Holmes, a private entity, was able to benefit from the county’s tax-exempt status. Plus, if he failed to pay for these invoices, the county could be held liable. There are significant ethical issues for a private individual to order items through county contacts, not to mention the attempts by Few and Purchasing to have the county pay for the items.

We will never fully know the monetary costs of EDI to the county, but we know these materials did not appear out of thin air; they had to be produced through human effort. When the GBI seized files from fire administration, they showed that Ms. Bryant spent countless hours taking care of Carl Holmes and EDI business while on county time; she was in effect the PIO of EDI. In other words, Carl Holmes not only received county monies directly, but also benefited substantially from county personnel working for him on county time. All the parties in this scenario had to know that this was out of bounds.

One of the most important roles of a department head is to be a good steward of public monies. Out of the Few’s disorderly management of financial matters, other organizations profited indiscriminately. One example is Firefighters United (FFU), an association of local firefighters. In 1998, FFU held a regional conference in Augusta. At this gathering there was a conference program given to attendees. It was a typical program, filled with ads used to raise money for the organization. Records show that the Augusta-Richmond Fire Department was given the invoice for the printing of these programs. On an invoice dated November 11, 1998 and sent "attention Katrice Bryant," there was a charge for an "FFU fall conference book" of $2095.00. Records do not indicate if FFU ever reimbursed the county or paid the vendor directly. If FFU did pay for some of the bills, they still received the merchandise tax-free via the county’s tax-exempt status.

Chief Few brought two conventions to Augusta. Few understood from his superiors that these were private conferences and could receive no county funds whatsoever. Some of the costs of conferences were passed directly onto to the county. For example, costs from a joint conference of the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs and Georgia Association of Firefighters (held in Augusta in August 1998) were charged to the county. An invoice dated September 2, 1998 lists the following: agenda program - $199.00, comp. charges- $135.00, "8" pages -$264.00 and book- $1,995.00 (Miller Printing took 5% off for the county).

The Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs conference of 2000 also saw some printing costs deferred to the county. There were invoices addressed to the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department. On July 19, 1999, there was a $192.00 charge for envelopes. On October 26, 1999, there was a $175.00 charge for envelopes. On March 15, 2000, there was a charge for $2,640.50 for conference printing costs. These costs were paid directly by the county. While Purchasing let them go through, Accounting did challenge them, but with the political climate favoring Few, they lost the battle. There were other conference charges made to the Fire Department for which there is no record of full payment. Since only about $1,200.00 was paid out of the SEAFC account to Miller Printing, it is hard to trace where (or if) payment came from. Still, this private conference benefited from the county’s tax-exempt status, thereby depriving ARC of tax revenue. Some of the questionable charges are on February 11, 2000, there was a $2,332.00 charge for a tri-fold brochure and on April 7, 2000, there was $1,157.00 for the same items. On April 10, 2000, there was a $103.00 charge for inserts. On June 26, 2000, there was a $2,967.00 charge for the souvenir book. Again, this is the same conference that Few’s superiors had admonished him that the county was not to pay for conferences expenses and the county also ended up paying out tens of thousands more after Few left town. These were not omissions. Chief Few intentionally passed costs on to the taxpayers.

The use of county contracts for personal benefit is a violation of governmental ethics and, most importantly, the Augusta-Richmond County code (1-10-18). (Appendix DDD) This did not deter Chief Few when he decided he wanted something. For example: the Fire Department has a uniform contract with a vendor. Each year the firemen are given an allowance to spend with the vendor to buy department specific clothing. This allowance is $250.00 per year. With this, the firemen buy uniform shirts, work shirts, pants, dress uniforms, shoes and other needed items. The department writes specifications for each item of clothing and defines what each fireman is to posses. Usually $250.00 is not enough to keep the men in the basic necessities, let alone dress uniforms.

In the summer of 2000, just before he left for D.C., Chief Few’s daughter got married in Augusta. For this event, Few ordered himself a brand new dress uniform on April 19, 2000. This was not just any dress uniform. It was an all-white dress uniform, consisting of a white coat, pants and shoes, which cost the county $315.97. (Appendix EEE) This is not a uniform called for in the ARCFD uniform specifications and never has been. Only he ordered one, only one person had one and it was worn only once - for the wedding (the SGJ obtained the Mustard Seed videotape as evidence). Clearly Chief Few ordered this for his daughter’s wedding. It was not even turned in as per county policy. To use a county contract to obtain a free wedding outfit is outrageous. To manipulate the system so openly is inexcusable.

The attempts by Few to produce revenue for the department usually failed. He had the department take over the extrication process at car accidents. Few decided to charge $250.00 for each extrication. The proceeds were to help fund an administrative assistant position. Over time, this process raised only a few thousand dollars a year. The funded position was for more than $20,000.00 a year, so this has to be a "loss leader." Then, Few added another administrative assistant position and claimed he would fund it through a grant. This grant ended up being one year and did not cover the full salary for the position. The remainder of it ends up being paid out of the fire budget. This is what is called an unfunded mandate, with the next year’s budget being charged with the entire amount of the salary. So, with a bait and switch technique, Few got administrative assistants and the county to picked up the tab for positions "that won’t cost the county anything" --- wasteful spending in order to build a personal bureaucracy.

As stated earlier, Chief Few fretted about having enough money to better the department. Observed from afar, his financial priorities always seemed skewed. For example, there is the much-ballyhooed Wellness Program. Few initiated this idea in 1998 and spent $31,064.03 in two years with Atlanta Health Systems. The initial premise was to improve the overall health of the firefighters, but it fell apart in the execution.

The first problem was whom Few used to present the program. He arranged for a business called Atlanta Health Systems (run by Lou Schiffman) to come to Augusta. It should be noted that Chief Few had previous contact with this company while chief in East Point. Mr. Schiffman first came in October 1998. On October 30, 1999, a $1,529.03 check was cut to Ronnie Few on behalf of Atlanta Health Systems. Then on November 24, 1998, this company received a $7,906 check for "procedures." On December 11, 1998, there was another check for $5,877.00 given to Atlanta Health Systems for "Wellness Program." On December 23 1998, there was a check for "Wellness Program," this time for $1,680.00. After spending a total of $16,902.03 in 1998, Few then spent another $10,854.00 with Atlanta Health Systems in 1999. There were four payments in 1999, all made for "Wellness Program." And then in 2000, $3,300.00 was spent with Atlanta Health Systems. What did the county get for this money?

Atlanta Health Systems came to town and would lecture the firemen on topics like nutrition, proper exercise and the advantages of a "power nap." They provided guidelines for healthy living and made arrangements with Health Central for exercise facilities (which represented additional costs for the county). It has to be asked why weren’t local, and much less expensive, options explored? Augusta must have dieticians and exercise specialists. Some of the information could have been obtained for free. More importantly, should Chief Few involve the departmental budget (our tax dollars) in these types of courses? In the end, for the cost of $31,064.03, the county financed a peripheral program (with a Few cohort) used by relatively few employees.

Few cost the department money even when he was trying to "help the county out." Before consolidation, the city agreed to lease space in the Morris Museum of Art at a high cost per square foot and the consolidated government got stuck with the long-term deal in 1996. When Chief Few arrived, he learned of the empty office space and offered to move fire administration from Station No. 3 to the Morris Building. He was doing it "for the county," so the offices would not be empty. The rent was then taken out of the Fire Department budget. Over the years, (from early 1998 on) the rent has ranged from $4,992.00 per month to $5,061.00 per month. This is a department with plenty of free office space at both Station No.3 and Station No. 6. Yet, over the next four years, the Fire Service spent approximately a quarter million dollars of department funds on offices!

Then there was the money spent furnishing these offices. Few wanted the best furniture and spent at least $11,314.00 outfitting it from August 11, 1997 to July 18, 2000. (Appendix FFF) The firefighters euphemistically referred to the opulent offices as the "Taj Mahal." As Few expanded his staff over the years, even more money was spent on office furnishings. Ironically, while no money was spent modernizing the stations with computers, $22,819.00 was spent on computer equipment for the administrative staff (several computers along with a laptop, color printers, etc.). Few spent good money for comfort and distance from the rank and file. Previous chiefs had no problem with offices at Headquarters. Chief Few expended cash for flash, cash that could have been used to help the whole department.

The Fire Department obviously has large capital outlays. Their major capital category is the fleet of vehicles: fire pumpers, ladder trucks, command vehicles, service trucks and chiefs’ cars. All are expensive to purchase and maintain. The process to buy these vehicles should be thorough and aboveboard, with no question about taxpayers’ money being used extravagantly. Chief Few, though, approached truck purchases as he did so many issues: if it looks good, cost is no object.

In 1998, Few purchased five "pumpers" (the basic fire apparatus that goes to fight fires, it carries water, hoses, etc.). The Fire Department went through the bid process and one of the higher bids was taken from Harless Fire Equipment, which sells Pierce fire equipment. The bid was $249,991.00 per pumper, for a grand total of $1,249,955.00. The low bid was from Bob Gay Fire Engines (selling American LaFrance engines), listed at $1,238,855.00. Earlier, Gay lowered his bid by $7,900.00 per truck (and promised a faster delivery schedule). This made his actual bid $1,199,355.00. (Appendix GGG) In the Commission Agenda item for this purchase, Few claimed Harless and Pierce were giving the department discounts on pumpers that were usually more expensive so the county was "saving money" in a way. No mention was made of the revised lower offer from Bob Gay Fire Engines. Though there are times when it is legitimate for the county to take a higher bid, the process in 1998 was filled with controversy. For example, Few had a long-term relationship with Harless going back to East Point. While Few claimed to have some reasonable rationale to choose Pierce (including a wish to standardize the fleet so as to cut costs), the purchase was filled with the appearance of impropriety. (Appendix III)

The SGJ spoke with experts in the field of fire apparatus and it appears that Few rewarded Harless by purchasing the "Cadillac" of fire engines. Cabs were custom built. The gallons-per-minute pumping ability was greater than the pumpers being ordered by New York City at the time. To top it off, the pumping capacity was greater than our hoses could actually accommodate. Included were electrical steps on the doors (which fail often and causes the opening and closing of doors to become more time consuming). The pumpers were, as Few stated, machines the men would "be proud of" as they went down the road. But the SGJ found a consensus that he had spent at least $38,000.00 more per engine than Augusta actually needed. In point of fact during the same period, Jenkins County bought five basic Pierces for $100,000.00 less per pumper. Augusta’s expenses get even greater from here.

These expenditures do not take into account the extra costs that are incurred when repairing custom fire equipment (versus the less-expensive stock equipment) because of the proprietary Pierce parts. So Few’s claim that standardizing the fleet to one manufacturer would cut repair costs was not borne out in reality. And while Harless was getting top dollar for top-of-line merchandise, they then charged ARC over $4,500.00 for plaques, lettering and emblems not included in the original bid. The department is then forced to buy other add-on products from Harless to outfit the trucks.

As mentioned elsewhere, Few formed advisory committees when he arrived in Augusta. One committee was "research and development," and one of its tasks was to write specifications for the new pumpers. In a spirit of cooperation, several men, including veterans of the Fire Service, volunteered their talents to work tedious hours writing specs. Then, Few refused to use the specifications this committee created. Few would later give Chief Dennis Adkins a disk from which to create the final specs and these turned out to be the specifications for Pierce equipment from Few’s tenure at East Point. It gets stranger still. When the bid process went before the county commission, Few wrote that his R&D committee had "reviewed" the bids and "recommended" the Pierce pumpers. This was not true, the committee never made any review or recommendation. Earlier, when R&D members proposed that they go to another manufacturer’s factory in Florida (as some selected chiefs and others had with the Pierce factory in Wisconsin), Few said "no." Few further told members of R&D in a memo that only he and his deputy chiefs would make the final decision regarding fire equipment. This is a dichotomy Few could never explain.

Few then turned around a year later and spent another half a million dollars on a Pierce ladder truck from Harless that was extremely over-built for Augusta. Few bought this Pierce product to replace another aerial truck just a few years old. The ladder/platform truck looks impressive rolling down the road, but the extra costs for constant maintenance and repairs to a truck that is rarely in service is just not worth the trouble. It should also be noted that Few sold the aforementioned platform truck because it was "too expensive" to constantly repair (see the missing checks escapade), and then bought his own good-looking symbol from Harless, one that is constantly under repair.

Conclusion

It is imperative to the county that a department head be mindful of the fact that he does not have an open, unlimited checkbook. He has a responsibility to the county and his personnel to spend the funds wisely and frugally, to the benefit and protection of the county. Chief Few showed little grasp of this notion. With a smile and reassuring words, Chief Few pretty much did whatever he wanted and let the taxpayers do the worrying. What would they have worried about had they known?

First there were the non-essentials. If the department and the county are strapped for cash, why spend money on items that are not necessary to fulfill the fire department’s mission to protect? Ray Bans, special watches, cameras, videotaped histrionics, alleged "wellness programs", bagpipes and kilts, rent for prime office space and gifts for friends. Newsletters and glossy biannual reports created more flammable material, but no more fire protection. While so many areas needed money and professional attention, why did Few’s many soft expenditures go unexamined?

When it came to the essential items, there was often overspending: pumpers, aerial trucks, traveling the country to conferences, office furniture, computers and uniforms. All are things that are needed, but all require a prudent, professional evaluation. There should never be any allowance for buying merely for "feeling proud" or "looking good." Why spend an extra quarter to half million dollars on fire trucks? The answer is that Few preferred style to substance. And, with the aerial truck and pumpers, the extra costs produced equipment that had extra repair costs. With up market furniture, repetitive and extravagant conferences, fancy computers (used mostly for extraneous, non-suppression activities) and a bridal white dress uniform, Few was not financially responsible. Overspending on essentials is imprudent because it creates chaotic limitations elsewhere. More money does not always mean better quality, but it usually means less quantity.

Few’s feel-good fiscal decisions often failed his constituents in terms of practical firefighting. The unintended consequences for the department was that the have-nots, men and officers out in stations, going to fires- had no computers, shabby furniture and did not go off to neat conferences or even good training and were discouraged. With the lost monies Few could have modernized stations with computers (or fax machines that worked). He could have expanded EMS or with the long-promised funds from local corporations, he could have built a training center that would have saved Augusta and area companies money over the long haul. In an economic downturn, we are now raising taxes to cover the basics.

When Few came to Augusta he told compadres he was coming to rescue a department "flat on its back." By the time Few had left Augusta, he was claiming to have created a department that was both modern and "better off" for his having been chief. Was the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department better off financially for having Ronnie Few as chief? The answer is an emphatic no. Few was an irresponsible financial manager. Whether it was because he was over his head or was less than forthcoming, Few was out of his element. The department will be paying for his tenure for years to come, but the morass must be laid at the feet of his bosses who have proven they were willing to pay Ronnie’s debts for him.


Reaction to Investigation


The reaction to the SGJ investigation by Few and Bryant was less than helpful to our efforts. Chief Few became upset to learn that the SGJ would be taking the testimony of others in the department beside himself. One witness reported that Chief Few stood outside her office after she received her subpoena and loudly proclaimed, "I have arranged with the District Attorney to get transcripts of everyone who testifies so I can review them for lies." There were others within earshot that were going to testify before the SGJ in the future. Few’s claim was false; no one gets the transcripts of SGJ testimony except the SGJ and the necessary law enforcement officials. This witness was intimidated and had to be reassured she would be safe. Soon, other witnesses reported similar incidences and they had to be reassured that Chief Few and others could not get transcripts of their SGJ testimony. Few, of course, knew this and had to be brought in and warned by the District Attorney not to engage in such tactics. Other obstacles were erected.

Delivery Problems

The next problem was the delivery of subpoenas to witnesses. Fire Administration wanted them delivered to the main office, so they could call in the personnel to pick them up. This was done so as not to "disrupt fire operations." It soon became obvious that Few was going to maintain a list of witnesses for future reference. The SGJ decided not to cooperate with this when his motive was discovered and when we realized that certain personnel were not receiving their subpoenas in a timely manner. Then, the PIO came into the picture.

Information, Please

PIO Bryant felt she should not have to share information with the public citizens on the SGJ. When subpoenaed to testify and instructed to bring specific information, she balked. She did not "understand" our requests and, therefore, could not fulfill them. When informed this was not an option, she brought in three cases of documents and papers and wanted the SGJ to sign a release form. (It was not signed). Future requests for information sent to Few and Bryant caused debates and delays until they were finally told they were in danger of being found in contempt.

Testify

Testimony from Few and Bryant was an adventure. They both wanted to inquire of the SGJ. They wanted to know our names, our occupations and what we were "really looking for." They did not like being questioned themselves. Other witnesses would tell us to ask Few, not them, when certain subjects were brought up. Testimony became like pulling teeth.

Visitation

The SGJ has the right to visit any county facility at any time. The SGJ (like any regular grand jury) can inspect county offices and materials without prior notice and without a subpoena. Chief Few would never acknowledge this. He and Bryant demanded subpoenas for every item, even those that they gave out freely to others (for example - the biannual report, media articles written by Bryant, The Siren, etc.). Then Chief Few decided he did not like the SGJ visiting stations and talking to the firefighters, inspecting equipment or looking over facilities. He especially became upset when we attempted to speak to Captain Tommy Cox in his office. Few physically barred two men and four women from entering the office of Capt. Cox as was their right as members of the SGJ. We finally did get into Cox’s office.

The final straw for Few was when members of the SGJ attended a session of the Carl Holmes training experience and the county-paid rookie graduation ceremony. Chief Few had PIO Bryant fire off a letter to the District Attorney and Judge Albert Pickett. This letter complained of our "disruptive behavior," made false claims and then demanded the right to schedule and approve any activity by the SGJ in regard to the Fire Department. Few and Bryant were informed that this was not acceptable. They were advised of the rights of the SGJ and what their responsibilities were to meet our requests.

The Long Goodbye

The SGJ was resolute in its mission. Finally, Few and Bryant realized we could not be put off or intimidated. At this point, they resorted to vague comments in meetings and less vague articles in The Siren about the SGJ. Later, when they both resigned, Interim Chief Scott set out to "show them who was boss." The SGJ pushed on and finally proceeded without hindrance and delay from the Fire Department. The actions by Few and Bryant early on dragged the inquiry out, but ended up revealing more than they ever dreamed of.


Recommendations


Before we present our concluding statements, the Special Grand Jury would like to make the following recommendations that we believe will improve the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department and its service to its employees and our community. These recommendations are based on thousands of hours of testimony, research and just plain common sense.

  1. ISO Rating --- The consolidated fire department has never undergone the process of receiving this evaluation. This would show the Fire Service where the gaps are in our system. They can then use this information to better the quality of their service.
  2. Promotional Process --- As we pointed out, there were problems created by inexperienced/unqualified individuals being thrust into positions of responsibility. We recommend that the Fire Service return to the tried and true promotional policy used in most public safety departments. a. First, one must be promoted through the ranks, step by step with no skipping of ranks (i.e. private to sergeant to lieutenant and so on). Secondly, before rising to the next rank, there should be a prescribed amount of time served in the rank below (i.e. before becoming a captain one should be a lieutenant for three years). b. Promotions in the training section should also be reviewed. We propose that to become a training lieutenant, one must have been a lieutenant in suppression. To become the training chief, one should have been a captain or a battalion chief in suppression first. This would ensure those supervising and performing the training would have had the experience of the ranks they are training, improving the overall quality of instruction. The department will need to review training’s salary structure to prepare for this (training chiefs and lieutenants would be paid on a higher scale to attract competition). The department has gone too long without a promotional process. There are many people filling in at ranks above their own. The process should be based on accepted promotional models. There should be an open process, run fairly and impartially.
  3. Training Center --- One of the biggest needs of the department is that of a training center. As mentioned, there had been offers over the years from local industry to help the Fire Service attain such an asset. The department should explore this option again along with grants and using future SPLOST revenue for the creation of a training center. Not only would the department benefit by the increased levels of training, such a center could be used to produce revenue by renting it out to other departments and industry.
  4. Minimum Standards --- The theory behind Minimum Standards that they are training tools. In reality they are timed physical exercises that do nothing to impart fire knowledge. The standards need to be brought in line with what departments in the state follow, objective based. This would then test the firefighting skills of the firefighters. Now training is mostly timing the firefighters, with little done to improve technique and ability. The standards as they are currently practiced do not allow for correction or instruction, it is strictly a beat the clock any way you can scenario. These standards do not reflect the skill level of firefighters according to training experts at the Georgia Fire Academy at Forsythe, Georgia. They must be changed so as to improve the abilities of the department.
  5. Discipline and Regulations --- During the last few years, discipline has become uneven and often uncivil. To help combat this, the County Commission and the county Human Resources department should formally recognize the Fire Department manual as the department’s governing set of rules, along with the county policy manual. This would ensure that everyone in the department was working off the same page. In addition, to lessen the impact of certain supervisors with autocratic management styles, an internal department grievance board should be created. The Special Operations Chief, as a permanent non-voting chairman, would provide guidance and knowledge of departmental procedures. The board would consist of five representatives, one member each from the ranks of private, sergeant, lieutenant, captain and battalion chief. Each rank would elect their own representative. Members would rotate on a six-month or one year basis and could not succeed themselves for consecutive terms. The board would hear appeals and disputes over discipline and rules and make recommendations to the Chief of the department. It would provide an open forum and help to check the more egregious errors of discipline and rules interpretations. Employees could still appeal to the county personnel board if they were not satisfied with the Chief’s final decision.
  6. Fire Prevention Bureau --- As mentioned earlier, the Fire Prevention Bureau has suffered due to the lack of quality leadership. In order to improve overall leadership and organization, we propose that Chief Bobby Joyner be replaced as head of the Bureau. Our recommendation is to have Lt. Herbert Terry, the most senior and knowledgeable person, postpone his retirement (or come back as an interim civilian head of the department) and take over the Bureau. Since Chief Maddox greatly neglected the Fire Prevention Bureau at the time of consolidation and Chief Few perpetuated this neglect, we have fewer people doing inspections than before consolidation. We propose that more personnel be hired to perform inspections in order to improve the overall building safety of the county. There are many other ways to improve efficiency. Capt. Linda McDonald could be put back under the Bureau and do inspections along with her normal duties. Arson inspection could also be improved. Paperwork needs to be filed responsibly, training improved and reviewed, and by giving the backup investigator (Lt. Ricky Smith) the proper equipment such as a camera. Training certifications of all the Bureau personnel should also be reviewed so as to allow those who want and need training to get the instruction they deserve.
  7. Unneeded Positions --- a. Under Chief Few, administrative assistant positions were created and were supposedly funded by "outside revenue." These sources of revenue have dried up and the positions are now a drain on the department budget. One of these administrative assistants started out with the Fire Prevention Bureau and then was shuffled to the administrative offices (with no assigned duties). Since this position has no real function, it should be eliminated. The position of administrative assistant in Training should be reviewed. This job could be combined with the Bureau assistant’s job to provide one assistant for both departments. The leftover salary could be used to fund an inspector in the Bureau. b. The Technical Services division of the department has an Assistant Chief supervising only two technicians in a maintenance department. Fleet Management services the fire vehicles so there is not much for someone of that pay grade to supervise. The SGJ recommends that the Maintenance Chief position be eliminated and one of the technicians be designated as senior. This would save a chief’s salary and the removed chief could possibly fill the vacant battalion chief’s position. c. The position of Public Information Officer should be removed from the Fire Department organization altogether. The department should continue with Capt. Tommy Cox and various chiefs providing information to the media. The position could then be moved into the Bureau and filled by an inspector.
  8. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) --- Part of the current Fire Service budget goes to pay for the EMS contract. The EMS provider in turn supplies ambulance service to the county. The Fire Department is now dispatched to EMS calls to provide first responder help. The situation in ARC, at the present time, is one of confusion. With too few ambulances to cover the county, there often are no ambulances to respond to emergencies and transport patients. The EMS provider also re-supplies the Fire Service with medical supplies used on EMS calls. The Fire Service has had problems getting re-supplied, especially in the evening, since the provider does not have an after-hours supply cache. The department is currently forced to answer many EMS calls when ambulance crews are unwilling to perform certain functions. Ambulance crews have not wanted to go into the homes of those who have been deceased for a period of time, preferring to let the firefighters handle this task. The ambulance crews will also call fire crews to lift heavy patients, especially if the ambulance crews are female (the firefighters are not salary-continued when injured on ambulance calls). Fire crews now are increasingly performing ambulance functions that the county already pays the EMS providers for. The SGJ recommends that the Fire Service be allowed to administer the EMS contract directly. Their budget pays for it and they are sent out on such calls. By directly administering the contract, the department can make the EMS provider fulfill their responsibilities. The department could then set the criteria for their participation on EMS calls and set up re-supply procedures and would give the department experience in the field if the department was ever given full EMS responsibility for ARC. The County Commission should make this decision post haste in order to give the department time to prepare if they become the EMS provider.
  9. Carl Scott --- This report has gone into great detail on the Deputy Chief of Operations. Mr. Scott was never a battalion chief and went straight to deputy chief. Without command experience, he started from a compromised position. Since being promoted by Chief Few, he has badly fallen short of basic expectations of the job. He has caused confusion, forced others to straighten out the problems he creates and thereby increased the workloads of others. He has often received credit for the work others have done. There has been the ongoing problem of cogent and consistent instructions to subordinates; the battalion chiefs have lost all confidence in him. He has been flawed in use of discipline, being both bullying and capricious. He has displayed favoritism in making assignments. The SGJ feels that Chief Scott should be relieved of his duties. His behavior has been a hindrance to the operations section. In his tenure as deputy chief and interim chief he has not risen to the demands of the job. The Fire Chief should consider re-organizing the department and name a true second-in-command (such as the present Special Operations Chief or the Deputy Chief of Technical Services).
  10. Transit Houses --- The fire department transit house is an unnecessary and redundant program. The Red Cross and other organizations already assist those fire victims and the whole program was a publicity campaign. The department should divest itself of the property and use the proceeds toward a training center.
  11. Administration Offices --- Until administration can be placed at one of the new fire stations planned to be built, their offices should be placed at Station No.3. The present plan by the County Commission to pay $67,500.00 a year to relocate to a building on Laney-Walker Blvd. is suspect. Utilize office space at Station No. 6 and move the Bureau and/or Training there. Move administration to Station Three and which would be rent-free. There may be some moving costs, but this would be one time and much less than the $67,500.00 yearly rent at the Laney-Walker site. This would lessen the risk of Laney-Walker becoming a permanent site due to an enterprising politician. The money saved on rent can be put toward networking fire stations and administration by computer. This would ease the paperwork and communications problems (for example the backlog of fire reports that are now waiting to be typed by hand into Administration’s computer system could be eased by all future reports being placed in the system by the responding fire stations).
  12. Physical Assets Inventory --- The Fire Department needs a complete inventory of its material possessions. Everything from forks to fire trucks should be counted and a complete manifest prepared. This should be done every two years and especially after a chief leaves.
  13. Personnel Files--- The standard county policy is for personnel files in a department to match those in Human Resources and they should be purged yearly. In investigating the Fire Department personnel, the SGJ constantly found information in the Fire Department files going back decades. In some cases, people in authority inappropriately referenced past events when dealing with present day discipline. All of the Fire Department personnel files should be purged and reconciled with the Human Resources files (which are the official files of record).


Conclusions


The Special Grand Jury spent over two years examining the Fire Department. Much of the reporting has been about Ronnie Few and the fallout of his tenure. The importance of this report is not what it reveals about Chief Few, but what it exposes about our government, its politicians and our community as a whole. Let us look at what we have learned.

The Person and Phenomenon

Never upon arrival has a department head received such hoopla. This helped Few create the persona of "Ronnie Few, Progressive Fire Chief." With the newest catchphrases abounding, Few began building his resume with an eye towards impressing the public and the industry. Later, when people realized the claims were bigger than the accomplishments, Few turned prickly and claimed that "good ole’ boys" were against him from the start. Few stated his detractors were jealous because he was "modernizing" the department. In reality, there was a lot of good will, positive anticipation and a willingness to cooperate. In this atmosphere, where success should have been inevitable, Ronnie Few squandered the opportunity.

When the oft-espoused accomplishments of Chief Few are examined, it is apparent that the reality does not match the rhetoric. From bogus claims he had radically improved the Haz-Mat squad (which was already top notch), to the ignoble declarations that he would raise the training to new heights, Few assembled his legacy largely out of pretensions and pronouncements. He hired a PIO to laud his works. He created things that were important to his image, such as a newsletter and an honor guard. For Ronnie Few it was style over substance. He was a phenomenon, someone for whom reality was defined by his worldview (he told the department "you are here to make me look good"). When proponents stated that Few was a great chief, they were asked what was their source. They would respond that it was Chief Few himself. Few was seen as successful because he constantly asserted that he was a success. Proof by assertion was the main tenet of the Few Formula.

These assertions had consequences. When people inside and outside of the department asked valid questions about Few’s projects, they faced criticism themselves. He would crow about the Transit House, but it was never used while he was in Augusta. He boasted about creating the rope rescue and water rescue teams, yet these were present in the county before consolidation. When observers mentioned inconsistencies, Few and his PIO would put them under fire.

As the Special Grand Jury began to test Few’s claims, we were led to other problems. First there are the moving expenses. When the SGJ realized that the original stories withered under scrutiny, it became obvious there were going to be many quandaries with Chief Few. We found venality in everything from finances to discipline. Few was in over his head. His unprincipled style created a climate of disintegration.

Then there were the debts from 2000 SEAFC convention and the cell phone fiasco. Behind the scenes the problems were even worse. While the PIO had to keep spinning the situation, Few eventually spun his way into another job. As he left, he was proclaimed as the best we ever had by a coterie of converts. The phenomenon was complete, but the legend soon gave way to reality.

The Framework

How did he pull it off and who allowed it to happen? Our elected officials created a millieu where passivity and favoritism reigned. Few was the perfect example of someone who flourished in this climate. It was due to the commissioners who protected and nurtured him and those who were passive and operated in willful ignorance. The burden for Few rests squarely on the shoulders of these two sets of politicians. Let us look at the operation of this principle.

When Ronnie Few first sought moving expenses without receipts, Finance attempted to perform their oversight function. Few then produced fictitious receipts to avoid scrutiny and taxable income. Commissioners involved themselves and backed Finance off. This was the beginning of how Few would be shielded: when questions arose any answer would do. The commissioners would just dig deeper holes and Few realized he could get away with anything. Few became flamboyant and outrageous, comfortable in the knowledge that he was untouchable.

It became immediately obvious that the system would be bent towards Chief Few rather than vice versa. His immediate supervisor could not control him and dared not try. The county administrator openly admitted that the commissioners allowed Few to ignore his directives and he was powerless to stop this. The Chief Operating Officer of the entire county could not make Ronnie give up his driver nor curb his cell phone abuse.

There were other hard consequences of the commissioners’ attitude. County departments are constructed to function as checks and balances to one another. In confrontations with Chief Few, other department heads were chastised and maligned for doing their jobs effectively. Brenda Byrd-Pelaez, the former EEO director, was a constant target of certain commissioners, especially Commissioner Beard. When she made valid inquiries into illegitimate practices by Few, those commissioners leaned on her. They let it be known she had to back off Few. Pam Tucker, the former EMA Director, found herself in unwarranted power struggles with the Chief. Few felt she infringed on "territory" that was rightfully his. He ignored her communications and was publicly dismissive of her and her efforts.

Few avoided checks and balances in other ways. Whenever Finance questioned his creative fiscal moves, Few ignored or distorted the situation. Early on, he made an alliance with the Purchasing Director, Geri Sams. With her assistance, he was able to maneuver around the financial and purchasing processes. Thus, when employees in Finance tried to enforce proper procedures, they found their motives questioned and their reputation impugned because Sams and Few were connected employees. When he discovered Few’s questionable personnel moves, John Etheridge (the former Human Resources director) tried to enforce the county’s standard policies. He failed and for his efforts, his superiors publicly and privately assailed him. Etheridge was even forced to make a public apology once because Few did not like a statement he made at a meeting. It was an environment where Few went unchallenged and unsupervised because of his patrons. If a commissioner was going to perform any micromanaging, they should have stifled Few when he was running over the other department heads.

The environment is created because of an intransigent principle that permeates the whole government. Some commissioners are tireless proponents, while others are craven spectators. This practice is a form of crass favoritism: cronyism.

Cronyism Based on Race

In politics there will always be competing groups. Whether you are a Polynesian or Protestant, Cambodian or Catholic, you have a tendency to favor and support the group(s) with whom you most identify. In a democratic form of government, the relationship between competing groups can often be adversarial. The system only works if the representatives are ethical people, of strong moral character, and are willing to compromise for the good of the whole. Augusta is made up of many branches: old city versus old county, urban versus suburban, West Augusta versus South Augusta, rich versus poor. In Augusta, at this time, black versus white is the most attended area of difference.

What often contaminates the representative system is when constituency turns into cronyism. Cronyism occurs when politicians base their decisions solely on how it affects friends and family. Augusta has a long and storied history of cronyism (as do many cities) and it still troubles us today. But the mark of a progressive and flourishing city is when cronyism is diminished, if not obliterated. Unfortunately, Augusta has not shed this burden, as the Few story proves.

With the hiring of Few as the first African-American fire chief in Augusta, many hailed it as a step forward for the black community and the community as a whole. Many commissioners were also happy to be a part of an historic hiring and African-American commissioners felt a loyalty towards Few because he was black. Soon this normal identification turned into a cronyism based on race. These commissioners became zealous in their fealty and shielded Few when questions became problematic. When the questions became legion, commissioners then played their trump, the race card.

Whatever the facts, Few’s champions would charge that this was only a problem because Few was African-American. When a commissioner asked the Administrator to investigate a Few exploit, black commissioners accused the Administrator of being racist. It became impossible to analyze a situation regarding Few without it becoming chaotic. When asked later how Few went along unquestioned, many said that Few had "five votes out of the block" on the commission. They felt that there was no need to follow-up on Few’s activities because these commissioners would not allow issues to be evaluated openly. Other commissioners became intimidated. Even if they received information about a Few misstep, they ignored it for fear that Few’s supporters would paint them as racists.

When the Special Grand Jury made inquires, we too became "racist." For some of the commissioners, Ronnie Few was just a victim of the white good ole’ boy network and they accused the SGJ was being used in a vendetta against powerful blacks. When more details emerged regarding Few’s difficulties, his proponents found themselves losing the argument. So they went personal. They accused the SGJ of being part of the racist plot to bring down Few. Some commissioners even pushed county employees to "protect" Chief Few from scrutiny and public opinion. Their involvement became so entangled they had to cover up Few’s malfeasance and pay off his debts. Finally, in a stunning display of blind loyalty, three commissioners went to Washington D.C. to promote the cause of Chief Few.

In testimony before the D.C. City Council, three commissioners spoke on behalf of Ronnie Few in his confirmation as D.C fire chief. Few, appointed by Mayor Anthony Williams, at the time, was under fire for revelations of problems in Augusta. The three commissioners (and a business leader) testified to the character of Few and displayed their true priorities. They claimed that Few was a great person and a fine fire chief. They explained that Augusta was lost in the sixties and, therefore, Few had to be the victim of racism. They said that with Few’s problems, you had to "read between the lines," and that there were those who "don’t allow folks to win," After these vagaries, they cited a biased Augusta media. They said that the mayor and administrator should bear the brunt of the government’s problems. (Mayor Young wrote the D.C. Council on behalf of Few and Oliver publicly praised Few at his resignation). These commissioners renounced the city in order to help one man. Loyalty to Few overcame commitment to Augusta. In playing the race card on a national scale, they brought their cronyism full circle. Just think of what they could have said if Ronnie Few had been an honest man?

Several questions jump out immediately. Why would the county pay an administrator $90,000.00 just to have the politicos eviscerate his authority? If Oliver had been allowed to run the day-to-day operations of the county and properly supervise him, maybe Few could have been stopped from shooting himself in the foot and been a serviceable chief. But Oliver and others were never given the latitude to handle what they knew were untenable situations. The entire government was hobbled when dealing with Chief Few. The commissioners, in creating an icon because of the man’s race, let a bandit run roughshod. Who benefited? Certainly not the black community. Few was unabashedly pernicious, yet when he was taken to task he would take cover in the black community. Unsuspectingly, they were clutching a viper to their bosom, encouraged the whole while by their political leaders. Did anyone truly benefit? No. Chief Few took more from the city than he ever contributed. He proclaimed that we were flat on our backs when he came, but it is certain that we were on our knees when he left.

The Continuing Crisis

Could Few essentially happen again? The answer is a resounding yes. Though a "Few Good Men" owe D.C. an apology, the political environment in Augusta has not changed. Commissioners still micromanage and intimidate supervisors. (For example, look at how they botched the simple task of finding a fire chief- can anyone tell us what the Finance Director has to do with naming a fire chief?). They are ready to crush or convert anyone who stands up to them or thinks for himself. If the choice is between a good worker and a political hack, sycophancy is rewarded before merit. Hopefully, the community has learned from Few.

How can this be changed? Nothing will change until we transform the structure of the government itself. Our government must be streamlined, with rules and ordinances put in place to eradicate micromanaging and gridlock. Before that, we must elect people who will faithfully bring into being such a system. We should elect officials who personify statesmanship and professionalism. Their actions need to be based on what benefits our community, not what benefits themselves and their friends. We must hold them all accountable; it is our responsibility to be heard. Until this happens, other Chief Fews will work and prosper under these conditions.