- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

The head of the fire department in Augusta, Ga. who is expected to announce Monday that he will become chief of the District of Columbia fire department is being investigated by a special grand jury for questionable pay raises in 1998, The Washington Times has learned.
The special grand jury examining Chief Ronnie Few's role in the pay raises was seated in January and has an unlimited term making it the first of its kind in Georgia.
Chief Few is not the sole focus of the special grand jury, but documents and information obtained by The Washington Times show his involvement in the pay-raise distribution is a subject of the grand jury's inquiry.
A grand jury that was seated in September said in a report that it had found "preferential distribution of pay-raise funds to higher-level administrative staff and officials" at the expense of rank-and-file firefighters.
"As it stands now, it appears that performance pay raises are based on favoritism and proximity to the department head, rather than on actual work performance," the panel said in its report.
Low-ranking "combat" firefighters "who scored extremely high on their evaluations, received much lower pay raises than their superiors who had much lower evaluation scores."
The "combat" firefighters received maximum raises of 1.25 percent, while "higher administrative officials and staff" got raises ranging from 2.5 percent to 10 percent.
Chief Few is being considered to occupy the permanent post being temporarily filled by D.C. fire Battalion Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe.
Chief Ellerbe was appointed to the position last month after interim fire Chief Thomas N. Tippet resigned suddenly when the financial control board rejected funding for his plan to add a fifth firefighter to ladder trucks.
The September grand jury also has questioned "ethics violations" in the Augusta fire department, such as how a fire captain can sell $23,000 worth of equipment to the county while writing the bid for the same equipment.
In a report listing violations for the special grand jury to examine, the September grand jury wrote: "How could [the] … fire captain with his own fire equipment business, go unnoticed, unchallenged and not be stopped by his superiors? What will be the follow-up and consequences for this fire captain, his superiors and any other persons knowledgeable of these events?"
Augusta Mayor Bob Young told The Times that Chief Few was offered the job of chief of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Services Department. Mayor Young said Thursday Chief Few will make a major announcement Monday at 10 a.m.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and city officials said repeatedly this week that no job offer was made and that Mr. Williams was still deciding on a candidate.
But an official familiar with the selection process Thursday said Chief Few will announce he is accepting the District's offer on Monday.
Officials in the mayor's press office declined to comment about the special grand jury investigation in Georgia, saying they were not familiar with the topic.
Chief Few did not return a telephone message left at his Augusta home Thursday.
Chief Few responded harshly to criticism at a meeting in November, the Augusta Chronicle reported.
"The fire department should have never been in that [grand jury] report," he said at an Augusta Commission's Public Safety Committee meeting. "If you look at my record, those salaries are more even than most other departments."
Larger raises were given to administration-level employees because they had been underpaid, Chief Few said.
Several grand juries last year began examining questionable practices of Augusta-Richmond County, a jurisdiction that merged the city and county several years ago, according to Richmond County court documents.
The September grand jury conducted a massive inquiry into Richmond County government, writing in its report that it "subpoenaed and examined thousands of documents from inside and outside the government" and "examined numerous witnesses."
It found a special grand jury was needed because "the issues raised are too large to be handled in a normal grand jury term [and] the limited term of two months for each grand jury has proven to be a significant impediment to an effective inquiry."
The special grand jury is "inquiring into the operations of various government agencies and departments of our county," said Richmond County District Attorney Danny Craig.
Mr. Craig declined to say whether Chief Few or the fire department is part of that inquiry.
The September grand jury suggested the "Human Resources [department] be involved in the recommendation of performance pay raises and that personnel evaluations be given more weight in performance pay raises."
The issue of pay-raise distributions was sparked when the Augusta firefighters union filed a complaint with the county's office of equal opportunity in October.
Capt. William "Buddy" Spivey, president of the Augusta-Richmond County Firefighters Association, confirmed to The Times that the pay-raise grievance was filed first with the county and then "turned over to a special grand jury."

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