Originally created 12/13/04

Former fire chief wants probe resolved



Technically, the special grand jury investigation of city government, much of which focused on former Augusta Fire Chief Ronnie Few, started in 2000 and ended two years later. But that timetable doesn't work for Mr. Few.

He said the investigation began his first month on the job in 1997 and, for him, has not ended.

"I was investigated from the time I stepped in that city until the time I left," he said. "My first month, I started going through investigations."

A GBI report stemming from the special grand jury's probe remains unresolved 18 months after being sent to Eastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Spencer Lawton in Savannah for a determination of its merit.

Mr. Lawton did not return two telephone inquiries left at his office Friday.

Mr. Few spoke with The Augusta Chronicle about his tenure as the city's first black fire chief and the impact of the unresolved investigation. The issue was brought to the forefront Wednesday by Augusta Commissioner Betty Beard during a meeting between city commissioners and the Richmond County legislative delegation.

Mrs. Beard implored the lawmakers to ask the Georgia attorney general to intervene to get the case resolved.

"It was reported during the grand jury investigation that the mayor said Augusta was a cesspool of corruption," Mrs. Beard said. "Why didn't something come out to say that no one was found guilty? They checked everyone. It is still the perception of the city that Ronnie Few and a lot of other people were guilty."

Mr. Few said he is thankful for Mrs. Beard's efforts and eager for the case to be resolved.

"Nobody seems to want to say, 'Hey, we didn't find anything,'" he said. "It's apparent they didn't find anything wrong. You and I both know they'd have already done something about it."

Instead, everybody acts like they want it to go away, he said.

"And it's going away for some people. But it's not going away for me because it leaves that cloud over my head, saying I've done something wrong, and I know I haven't," he said.

He has been unable to get a fire chief's job since resigning as chief of the Washington, D.C., fire department in 2002 amid questions about inflated credentials on his rsum and inaccuracies on the rsums of his top appointees. He insists the questions were politically motivated by a unionized fire department and unrelated to Augusta's grand jury investigation.

When he applied for chief in Ann Arbor, Mich., Washington officials gave him excellent references, but when they called Augusta, they were told he was under indictment, Mr. Few said.

The special grand jury was dismissed in April 2003, five months after it issued its final presentment, a wrap-up of nine earlier reports that attacked government structure and questioned the ethics of elected and appointed officials.

In the jury's 124-page presentment on the fire department, grand jurors said Mr. Few operated his $14 million department with total disregard for city policy. It detailed what jurors described as long-standing practices of unfair promotion, questionable payouts to favored employees and politically motivated leadership.

Although Mr. Few praises Richmond County as a great place to live and work, he said the special grand jury "was not made up of fair-minded people."

"Anybody they thought that had an ax to grind with you, they called them down there," he said.

He said he couldn't understand what the grand jury was trying to "get to" or why the investigation continued so long.

"What use was it going to provide to the city to just keep it going?" he asked. "If I was the problem, I had already left. So what is the problem?"

Mr. Few said the probe was politically motivated but wouldn't elaborate.

"I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt they didn't give me, trying to be honest and fair, because it was pretty mean-spirited at times," he said.

Mr. Few said some people seemed to thrive on criticizing him but never gave him credit for getting new fire trucks and better uniforms and equipment for firefighters and new stations.

"Everything that went good down in Richmond County, I guarantee you this, they ain't ever said anything about," he said. "Those fire stations you're building now, the committee put it together, acquired the land and everything. Those are things I done. But they don't say anything about that. But anything that goes wrong, I get it. Oh, that was a bad deal there."

As to whether he would ever consider coming back as Augusta's fire chief, he said, "My job is done there."

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