Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Wednesday offered a vote of confidence to D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe after a report detailing sexual harassment and intimidation complaints against Chief Ellerbe at his prior job in Florida.
Mr. Gray said Chief Ellerbe remains a qualified pick for the top post at the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services based on his extensive knowledge of the agency’s duties and operations.
Mr. Gray backed Chief Ellerbe after The Washington Times reported Wednesday on a sexual harassment complaint in the chief’s personnel file from the 16 months he served as fire chief in Sarasota, Fla., from late 2009 through the end of 2010.
The report also revealed that neither the mayor, his transition team or the D.C. Council requested Chief Ellerbe’s personnel file before he was appointed or confirmed.
Chief Ellerbe’s personnel file included a positive performance review, yet also contained written statements expressing concern that the chief leered at female employees and intimidated other employees. Chief Ellerbe, who served in the District for 27 years before taking the Sarasota job, has denied the accusations.
The mayor insinuated on Wednesday that the controversy over his hiring of a longtime friend and political ally whose personnel record went unchecked was somehow linked to a plan proposed by Chief Ellerbe to change firefighters’ schedules from 24-hour to 12-hour shifts. The plan, which is supposed to keep a ready-and-waiting force near the District and reduce the number of days off between shifts, has been criticized by the D.C. firefighters’ union as a drastic measure that will force many firefighters to choose between their jobs and their out-of-state homes.
Chief Ellerbe on Wednesday appeared before the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary to answer questions about a number of ongoing issues within the department. Attempting to counter the “misinformation” that has created tension within the department, he addressed issues such as the need for a single uniform and logo policy and the whereabouts of new ambulances that have not yet been put into service.
“When these statements are made a lot of times they are made with incomplete information,” Chief Ellerbe said in response to Judiciary Committee Chairman Phil Mendelson’s questions. “The units are there but until we pay for them we can’t legally put them on our roster and put them on the street.”
Additionally, Chief Ellerbe’s staff testified that employees still need to be trained to drive the new, larger ambulances and to use new technology on the units.
After the hearing, Chief Ellerbe spoke briefly on the sexual harassment complaint lodged in Sarasota, saying that public leaders often have to deal with unfavorable allegations.
“I never meant to or intended to harass anyone,” he said.