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If Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department Chief Richie Bowers had done what Battalion Chief Kathleen Stanley did last Thursday the latest bad publicity for the department either wouldn’t have happened or wouldn’t have lingered for a week. I’m not advocating a regime change, but Stanley gets what Chief Bowers and the Board of Supervisors have never been able to grasp — transparent, blunt talk works a lot better than cliche government speak devoid of facts.
Even with the department PIO and the county communications director (who helped facilitate the interview) hanging on her every word, Stanley was able to talk clearly about the culture of the department when it comes to sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying issues. That’s not an easy thing to do.
Stanley speaks from experience. She has sued Fairfax County. Also, last year Stanley blew the whistle on issues with the department’s investigator who was supposed to be handling harassment and discrimination complaints.
Most important, Chief Stanley was able to characterize the latest bad publicity as a case of poor communications from a captain who Stanley believes knows better. Whether Kathleen Stanley is right or wrong, at least the public has a better understanding of what may have happened than the less than transparent information coming from the chief’s office. It’s now more than three weeks since the incident and other than Stanley’s comments the public is without any real facts. Please no more “zero tolerance” BS. Just tell us what happened.
Stanley also told WUSA9.com’s Peggy Fox that there are some positive developments on culture change — “It is the first time in my career that I can say we’re honestly putting forth a very strong effort to change it.” That’s a nice endorsement of Chief Bowers.
Still, all of the endorsements aren’t going to help the image of the department if Chief Bowers and company can’t figure out how to handle bad news. They dropped the ball last year leaving by the public hanging about the many complaints that surfaced after the suicide of Firefighter Nicole Mittendorff. There still hasn’t been any public accounting for these claims, including ones against Chief Bowers and his command staff.
Chief Bowers gets more opinionated crap from me than most any fire chief because he is the fire chief where I pay my taxes. I also care greatly about public safety in Fairfax County. None of this means he’s a bad chief. But until he can regularly give answers like Chief Stanley did the fire chief and the department are going to continue to face serious image problems.