Ronnie Few is on his way to confirmation as the District of Columbia’s new fire chief, barring the results of a special grand jury investigation into his former fire department in Georgia.
Acting Fire Chief Few cleared the first of two official hurdles yesterday, when the D.C. Council Judiciary Committee voted 3-0 to recommend the full council confirm him on Nov. 8.
Chief Few has the support of six council members and needs only one other for a majority on the 13-member council to assure his confirmation.
Some council members like Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat have expressed concern about the chief, but none currently oppose the confirmation publicly.
Chief Few, who led the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department for three years before assuming the top post in the District on July 10, is one subject of a grand jury probe into government corruption and mismanagement, The Washington Times first reported in June.
Chief Few has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The probe escalated when Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents raided his former offices in Augusta on Sept. 20. Search warrants and other documents do not mention any targets by name, but they indicated the focus of the investigation is on Chief Few.
The chief and his Augusta allies, however, have convinced the majority of Judiciary Committee members otherwise.
Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat and committee chairman, said yesterday, “Mr. Few is not a target of that investigation, which is ongoing.”
Mr. Brazil noted the testimony of Augusta officials who said at a D.C. Council committee hearing on Sept. 27 that Chief Few had done nothing wrong and that he is the victim of a racist conspiracy that includes the grand jury probe and negative news coverage.
Mr. Brazil was a member of the search committee that forwarded the names of two other fire chief candidates and Chief Few to Mayor Anthony A. Williams. He expressed consternation in June that he was not made aware of the grand jury investigation.
He said later in June he would send an investigator to Augusta to examine the accusations, but last month said he “reconsidered.”
Yesterday, he told The Times that a friend of his visited Augusta on his behalf and “heard there wasn’t anything of substance to the grand jury.”
The friend, whom Mr. Brazil identified as Joe Ruffin, informally queried government officials and others. “They said the word is [Chief Few] is clean, did a good job and there’s nothing there,” Mr. Brazil said.
Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and Judiciary Committee member, said Chief Few’s answers at the hearing and their private conversations have persuaded him to support the chief.
“I sincerely hope the grand jury investigation is brought to a conclusion quickly” and Chief Few is exonerated, he said.
Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and a Judiciary Committee member, said Chief Few has dismissed the issue of the grand jury investigation, as far as he was concerned.
The three committee members praised Chief Few’s abilities and experience, saying he will bring together the sworn firefighters and civilian emergency medical services workers, a long-standing problem for the District.
Mrs. Ambrose, also a Judiciary Committee member, was out of town and did not return a telephone message left at her office yesterday. She said in June she was “very distressed” the fire chief nominee was under investigation.
Council member Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, did not attend yesterday’s meeting, but strongly indicated at the hearing last month that he supports Chief Few.
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, will likely vote to confirm Chief Few, a spokesman said yesterday.
Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said he expects to vote for Chief Few’s confirmation.
The grand jury investigation is a concern, he said, “but it doesn’t seem to have panned out to the extent that the mayor be denied his choice.”
Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, told The Times yesterday he has not taken a position on the matter.
A staffer for Mr. Graham has asked the Office of the Mayor for information about financial and contractual issues regarding the fire chief.
The staffer inquired more than three weeks ago into what kind of severance package the city might have to pay Chief Few if he is indicted and has to resign. The mayor’s officials have not yet responded, the staffer said.
The other five members of the D.C. Council did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.