- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said it was a mistake that the background of outgoing Fire Chief Ronnie Few was not more thoroughly checked when he was hired two years ago, especially because city officials knew the candidate was then under investigation by a Richmond County, Ga., grand jury.

The grand jury released a preliminary report Tuesday accusing Chief Few who headed the Augusta-Richmond County fire department before he was recruited by Mayor Williams of creating slush funds, obstructing justice and leaving the department in chaos.

At his weekly press briefing yesterday, the mayor acknowledged the flaws in the hiring process that produced Chief Few, who will step down from his post this month amid questions about inflated credentials on his resume, and several other high-ranking mayoral appointees who were not who they said.

"Clearly, the process could have been better. Clearly, things did not work out as we intended," Mr. Williams said.

He also said the search for a replacement for Chief Few, whose last day is July 31, will be more thorough and detailed to weed out candidates with tarnished histories.

"I will ensure the process works now in the very best way," Mr. Williams said. "We're going to look back and see what adjustments we have to make, clearly work with our search firm on a more intensive review and evaluation of background materials, and I think that we'll come up with a first-rate person."

Chief Few is the latest of high-ranking D.C officials to step down amid questions about their resumes. Three fire department administrators who came from Georgia to the District with Chief Few, and former Parks and Recreation Director Robert Newman also resigned after reports that their credentials were overstated or inaccurate.

On Tuesday, Saamir Kaiser pleaded guilty to fraud in U.S. District Court. Kaiser, who falsely said he had graduated from law school and passed the bar, worked as an attorney for the District for three years.

Mr. Williams said the District will use an executive search firm from Bellevue, Wash., to search for a new fire chief and conduct background checks.

He said the company, the Oldani Group, has experience with public safety officials.

Jerrold Oldani, president of the group, said he will meet city officials later this month and that he expects city officials to want a thorough vetting of potential replacements.

"I would expect that this is going to be a fairly complicated search," Mr. Oldani said. "Given what I read happened with the last search, they're going with us because we have a reputation for thoroughness."

At the time Chief Few was hired here, a Richmond County grand jury was investigating allegations of wrongdoing inside the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department. The investigation was dismissed by Mr. Williams and members of the D.C. Council who confirmed Chief Few.

The grand jury report on Tuesday accused Chief Few of mismanagement, misuse of funds, cronyism and obstruction of justice during his two-year tenure there.

Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Craig said the special grand jury has the power to issue indictments against Chief Few when it completes its investigation in about 30 days.

Although the grand jury found Chief Few responsible for numerous financial irregularities including the creation of a secret bank account, the solicitation of county contractors for donations and the purchases of unneeded equipment Mayor Williams said yesterday he did not think the revelations of mismanagement in Georgia should lead to an audit of Chief Few's two-year tenure in the District.

"I believe we have some of the most rigorous internal control procedures in the country. We have the [inspector general]. We have the city auditor. They will do their work independently and unfettered by me," Mr. Williams said. "If anything happened, we would have known about it by now."

The inspector general began investigating Chief Few in December after The Washington Times reported that Chief Few worked for a man he hired as a consultant through sole-source contracts worth $23,000. The Times found that Chief Few did not disclose his financial ties to Carl Holmes, whom Chief Few worked for as an instructor.

The Richmond County grand jury also questioned the hiring of Mr. Holmes by Chief Few in Augusta.

D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat elected after Chief Few was hired, said the search firm that vetted Chief Few, the mayor and the council share blame for the hiring of the fire chief's hiring.

"There is a lot of blame to go around," Mr. Fenty said. "There was reason to pause about Chief Few's nomination."

He disagreed with Mr. Williams and said an independent audit should be conducted of the fire department in light of the problems in Georgia.

"It is almost like a repeat performance by Chief Few," Mr. Fenty said. "We know about the major issues. [City Administrator John] Koskinen, the mayor, the people who deal with the department on a day-to-day basis need to delve deep into that agency and see what else may have gone wrong."

Chief Thompson said he sees Chief Few on "an occasional basis" and did not want to discuss the grand jury report.

"My priority is to move the department forward," Chief Thompson said.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said she believes that an independent chief financial officer would prevent similar financial irregularities from happening and that there would not be a need for a separate audit.

She said she considered the charges made by the grand jury "very serious."

D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 5 Democrat, said it's the responsibility of the mayor to do a better job of screening. "It is not the council's job to go back and vet this stuff," she said.

Mrs. Ambrose, who opposed Chief Few's appointment two years ago, said she could not believe then that the mayor would select someone from such a small department.

Mr. Oldani said he hopes his firm will be able to complete the search within four months.

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