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It’s never pleasant to hear about someone losing their job, but the DC Council took an important stand this week. The Council refused to buy into Mayor Muriel Bowser’s fantasy that all was okay with DC 911 and its director. Council members took the somewhat rare step of telling the mayor to withdraw the nomination or it would be voted down on Tuesday. Bowser and Office of Unified Communications acting director Karima Holmes fiercely fought back for a few days. This included using OUC’s website, Twitter feed and workers to lobby for support of Holmes. But just after 6:00 p.m. Monday night — only hours before the vote — Bowser admitted defeat:
Mayor Bowser only has herself to blame. She created this scenario when she brought Holmes back to do a job that clearly she did not excel at. Before Holmes left the first time, after five years in charge, STATter911 had already uncovered four deaths in 10 months where there were serious 911 mistakes. Holmes announced she was leaving just three weeks after Communications Daily published the tragic 911 call from one of those deaths. Her departure came just before an already announced audit of the agency by the Office of the DC Auditor. Since Holmes’s return as acting director in March, STATter911 reported on six more deaths where there were significant 911 failures. Mayor Bowser acted like none of this occurred — including the audit that was very critical of Holmes’s leadership. The DC Council has now brought the mayor back to the reality that she had nominated an extremely flawed candidate.
So what’s next for DC 911? After Holmes leaves, nothing at the agency will suddenly improve. OUC will still have the same problems. Just bringing in another director without some key structural changes has proven to be a bad formula that has been the routine since OUC’s creation in 2004.
Maybe it’s time impanel a task forces of 911, police, fire and EMS leaders to take a look at what needs to change to get DC 911 past it’s seemingly never-ending crisis. There is precedent for this. After serious EMS and police mistakes surrounding the 2006 death of former New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum, an EMS task force was created. While not perfect, and a bit corrupted by some political machinations, it still brought both focus on EMS in DC and improvements.
That only happened because Rosenbaum was a “prominent” resident of the city. The death of this one man brought loads of news coverage, editorials and lots of outcry from the public and elected officials. The creation of the task force came out of a settlement agreement with the Rosenbaum family.
Despite 11 people dying in a little more than three years, the reaction over DC 911’s problems has been nothing like after David Rosenbaum’s death. Politicians speaking out and the press regularly covering DC 911 in a significant way only occurred in more recent months. The public only learned of those deaths because a washed up, retired reporter/gadfly had the time to uncover the truth about each of them. Generally speaking, 911 just doesn’t usually get a lot of attention in Washington.
I won’t hold my breath waiting for it to happen but It would be nice if this rebuke of Mayor Bowser and her 911 director had a positive impact, with renewed and regular attention to DC 911 by the press and the DC Council. Don’t let these 11 deaths be in vain. Finally treat each loss as if these people were as important as David Rosenbaum. And do something different this time. Something that breaks the cycle of bringing in a new director who is hampered by a structure and politics that encourages the ever failing status quo.