- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2000

A grand jury in Augusta, Ga., has acting Washington, D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few under scrutiny again, this time looking at questions regarding his use of government funds and equipment.
The special grand jury, which has questioned Chief Few in the past, is now investigating his "media awards" account, which was opened with a city tax ID number but without the legally required authorization from the County Council, Augusta Mayor Bob Young said.
That account came to light in the wake of questions about several unpaid bills left after Chief Few and his department hosted a fire chiefs convention this spring.
Chief Few ran the Augusta/ Richmond County Fire Department from 1997 until last month, when he took over the top firefighting post in the District. He faces a confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council next month to become a permanent fire chief.
The Augusta Fire Department still owes a local business $23,000, and it left $3,000 outstanding on the hotel bill. The fire chief's association paid the hotel, even though the bill was not the group's responsibility, an association official told The Washington Times yesterday.
No taxpayer money was used for the convention, but Mr. Young told Fire Department officials "to straighten this out as quickly as possible and make sure all the vendors get paid."
"Frankly, it's hard to find anyone in the Fire Department who's taking responsibility for any of these activities," Mr. Young told The Times.
Funds owed to the Augusta department's unauthorized media awards account apparently were placed in the account for the convention by mistake, Mr. Young said.
The very existence of the media awards account raises questions, and the Richmond County district attorney interviewed witnesses about the matter yesterday, sources said.
The Times first reported in June that a special grand jury is investigating Chief Few's role in questionable pay raises to department bureaucrats at the expense of rank-and-file firefighters. The panel also is examining equipment purchases and bidding procedures.
Chief Few has denied all wrongdoing and did so again yesterday.
"No one ever mismanaged money in the Fire Department under my watch," Chief Few said.
Augusta officials have also been asking Chief Few to reimburse the city between $700 to $900 for personal calls he made on a government-issued cellular telephone, a debt he apparently made good on late yesterday.
Chief Few also said yesterday he would pay any bill he owes, but questioned a letter from an Augusta city official that asked him to pay for his calls.
"How can you differentiate between personal calls and official calls?" Chief Few asked.
The outstanding balance for the calls was paid, however, late yesterday after a reporter for The Washington Times asked questions earlier in the day about the bill.
Late yesterday, a memo written by the Augusta city administrator surfaced, saying Chief Few's debt for personal calls was paid. The balance billed to Chief Few for personal calls was $642.
"Please be advised that a check for the balance of $642 was submitted today in payment of the balance," said the memo.
Randy Oliver, the memo's author, told The Times late yesterday that someone gave him a check from Chief Few's personal account for the remaining balance yesterday afternoon at about 4 p.m. The check had Chief Few's signature, "but someone had filled in the amount," he said.
"That takes care of the issue of the cell phone, as far as I know," Mr. Oliver said.

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