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Fairfax County says fire department investigation will be made public

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Previously: Fairfax County, give your next fire chief a fighting chance

In my opinion piece published in Sunday’s Washington Post about the claims over the last two years of sexual harassment and discrimination in the Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue Department this may be the key paragraph:

Today (Tuesday), WTTG-TV/FOX 5 reporter Paul Wagner went after this information. Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Sharon Bulova told Wagner she expects an investigation by County Executive Bryan Hill will provide these answers. Bulova says that report will be made public.

While I’ve encouraged an outside, independent investigation since April of 2016, it’s clear we’re going to have to settle for one done internal to the county but outside the department.

The challenge for Mr. Hill is to provide a report the public and the department can trust is truthful and provides clarity on what has or hasn’t occurred. Anyone applying to replace retiring Chief Richard Bowers might want to make sure this transparency and accountability about the past has been completed or this job could be more challenging than it needs to be.

Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/FOX 5:

The results of an investigation into alleged harassment at Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department is just days away from being released and leaders hope it will finally answer several questions.

For the past month, Fairfax officials have been investigating after Fairfax County Battalion Chief Kathleen Stanley said sexual harassment at the department has been tolerated and the idea that there was a zero tolerance policy for it is, in effect, a joke.

In an interview with FOX 5 on Tuesday, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Sharon Bulova said she was aware of concerns over discipline for sexual harassment and how it’s been handled within the department.

“I am not aware of individuals who have been fired or not. I am aware of people who have been disciplined. I am aware that there have been individuals who have grieved that discipline and I am aware that sometimes that grieving has upset the discipline that has been handed down so it’s complicated and hopefully the county executives report will be able to go point-by-point to explain what some of those actions were,” Bulova explained. “That will be a public report.”

The issue of alleged sexual harassment within the department came to light after the 2016 suicide of Nicole Mittendorf, who was a firefighter who had been the subject of vicious online harassment. Since Mittendorf’s death, questions have remained over the extent of the alleged harassment within the department. The answers, though, depended on who you ask.

Stanley, who was put in charge of the women’s program office, abruptly resigned from the position after stating in a letter that zero tolerance was a hollow term thrown about with false commitment.

In an opinion piece printed in the Washington Post, fire service consultant Dave Statter said the county has not been transparent on the issues within the fire department and questioned how many lawsuits had been filed over harassment and at what cost to taxpayers.

“We’ve had at least one case that I am aware of,” Bulova said. “There may be more that have been raised and have gone to court and have been appealed. So yes, I am aware of at least one case and there could be more.”

Bulova said she was very surprised to see the letter from Stanley and now hopes the county executive’s report will give her the answers she and the rest of the board would like to have.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Chief Richie Bowers announced he would be retiring following Stanley’s letter. When asked if Bowers was forced out of his position, Bulova said no and stated Bowers decided to retire on his own.

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