- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

The D.C. Council voted 11-2 yesterday to confirm Ronnie Few as head of the District's fire department amid questions about his abilities, a Georgia grand jury investigation and the vote's procedure.
Council members Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, and Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, voted against Chief Few's confirmation, expressing concern about the depth and breadth of his experience.
"Coming from Augusta, Ga., which has such a small population that only grows once a year with the Master's [golf] tournament is not remotely the same as coming into the District of Columbia," Mrs. Ambrose told The Washington Times.
Chief Few led the Augusta-Richmond County, Ga., fire department for three years before being tapped by Mayor Anthony A. Williams to head the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. He became interim fire chief July 10.
Mrs. Schwartz cited her frustration with a previous vote for a mayoral appointee, Vanessa Dale Burns, as head of the Department of Public Works. She voted for Miss Burns despite concerns about her experience.
Miss Burns eventually resigned under fire for her performance.
"I do not want to repeat that experience," Mrs. Schwartz said. "I do not believe Chief Few has the requisite, comparable experience to head the fire department."
Still, Mr. Williams and his administration praised the council vote as a sign of "overwhelming support" for a man tasked with fixing a troubled agency that has lacked a permanent chief for a full year.
The city's top public safety official, Margret Kellems, said Chief Few's leadership, community relations efforts and management skills won him the job.
"Chief Few brings with him a wealth of experience and talents," said Ms. Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice.
Chief Few remains one subject of a yearlong special grand jury probe of corruption and mismanagement in the Augusta-Richmond County government, which The Times first reported June 2.
He repeatedly has denied any wrongdoing and at times has said he is no longer under scrutiny.
The grand jury is examining Chief Few's role in an unauthorized "media awards" account he opened, an unpaid hotel bill for a conference he organized, bidding and procurement irregularities, and questionable pay raises to fire department bureaucrats at the expense of rank-and-file firefighters, among other topics.
The probe escalated Sept. 20, when the Georgia Bureau of Investigation raided his former offices and two other agencies and seized vanloads of documents.
The investigation remains on hold while agents analyze those records for financial misdeeds.
Council members grilled Chief Few about the grand jury investigation during a Sept. 27 hearing, and most left expressing confidence in the chief.
Several Augusta officials traveled to the District for the hearing and said Chief Few was the victim of a racist investigation and biased news coverage.
Mrs. Ambrose said yesterday that the grand jury was not a concern for her, and Mrs. Schwartz said it was of minor concern.
The council's approval was really a rubber-stamping of Chief Few's confirmation because of a little-known rule: Agency bosses become permanent after 90 "council session" days on the job, unless the council votes them down, officials noted for the first time yesterday.
The revelation emerged when council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, asked if the confirmation resolution was properly brought before the council.
Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, replied: "If the council voted no, it would not hold. This vote is more in the form of a sense of the council resolution."
"By operation of law, the council gives its voice to something that goes into effect by law," Mrs. Cropp said later. "It is a vote of confidence."
Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, who shepherded Chief Few's confirmation, said he was aware of the provision.
Mr. Brazil said he did not schedule an earlier, real confirmation vote because he wanted to solicit public comment and did not want to rush the confirmation process amid the grand jury probe.
Yesterday's vote was important, Mr. Brazil said, because Chief Few "needed a vote of approval for the council from a credibility standpoint."
"I consider this to be a very important statement," he added. "I think we did exercise our oversight role."
"Could we have done it in a different way? Well, yeah," Mr. Brazil said after repeated questioning.

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