- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The director of the District’s planned $100 million Unified Communications Center resigned yesterday after being suspended last week for making racially insensitive remarks.

Howard A. Baker, who was to be paid $140,000 to lead an agency that had not yet been created and was to be housed in a facility that had not yet been built, served just 80 days on the job.

“In light of recent events, I fear that my continued employment as the Director of the PSCC [Public Safety Communications Center] would unnecessarily detract from the mission and would unduly complicate the formation of the Office of Unified Communications,” Mr. Baker said in his resignation letter to Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

In a statement released yesterday afternoon, Mr. Williams praised Mr. Baker’s brief service to the city.

“I appreciate Mr. Baker’s contribution to the improvement of our 911 systems, but I agree that his resignation is in the best interest of the District,” Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Williams placed Mr. Baker on administrative leave with pay last week. Yesterday’s resignation was effective immediately.

During an interview with WRC-TV (Channel 4) yesterday, Mr. Baker apologized and made no excuses for what he called an “inappropriate, flippant, off-the-cuff remark” he made at an Oct. 20 meeting with two subordinate managers.

He said that after reflecting on the remark, he apologized to one person and tried to, but couldn’t, reach the other.

“This is probably the most stupid mistake I’ve ever made, and one that I’ll certainly regret for the rest of my life,” he said.

While waiting for the new 911 center to be built, Mr. Baker was running the city’s Public Safety Communications Center on McMillan Drive NW and handling the transition to the new facility, which is scheduled to open on the east campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in December 2004.

Representatives of the city’s police and fire departments reported to Mr. Baker, who reported to Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice.

Sources close to the 911 center said Mr. Baker’s gruff style did not endear him to co-workers, and that the Oct. 20 remark was not the first time colleagues thought he had crossed the line in his comments.

Mr. Baker’s departure is the latest blow to the troubled 911 call center, which has been chronically understaffed, resulting in resident complaints and D.C. Council inquiries into long delays in 911 and 311 responses.

Mr. Baker, who has 29 years of experience, was hand-picked by Suzanne Peck, the District’s chief technology officer, after holding similar posts in New York and Philadelphia. His hiring capped a 1-year search for someone to lead the city’s 911 center. During that time, two other candidates for the post withdrew after being offered the job.

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