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Friday, July 04, 2008

Councilmember Heystek Joins Call for Independent Investigator

Last night, the Sacramento news stations picked up the story on the Grand Jury's report about the Davis Fire Department. While their story focused largely on the incidence of drinking by firefighters and then sleeping it off at the fire station. There was also important new information provided including statements by Councilmember Lamar Heystek and City Manager Bill Emlen.

Davis City Councilmember Lamar Heystek called for an independent investigation into these allegations.
"I think we need to bring in outside help to look into the Grand Jury allegations."
CBS News 13's broadcast focused mostly on the incidence of drinking, however, they also interviewed the City Manager by phone. At one point they asked Bill Emlen what Fire Chief Rose Conroy's reaction to the Grand Jury report was.
"Her reaction is that she feels that there are a lot of things in the report that don't paint an accurate picture of how the department is run."
Bill Emlen went on to say that some of what is alleged in the report could be inaccurate.

But what is interesting about his statement is that it would appear that his initial denial to the press on Tuesday was based on what Chief Rose Conroy said.

Bill Emlen's statement released on Tuesday said:
"We believe the Grand Jury Report includes several statements that are factually incorrect. Taken together, they contribute to a less-than-accurate picture of the Davis Fire Department."
However, notably as important, was toward the end of the CBS News 13 broadcast, the reporter said that Bill Emlen said that an independent investigation will be underway immediately.

The question now is what form such an independent investigation might take. In order to really have the confidence of the public at this point, that investigation needs to be conducted by someone outside of the city's chain of command. Basically it needs to be performed by someone like Bob Aaronson, who is the police ombudsman, or Bob Aaronson itself.

At this point, it appears that there is now momentum in that direction.

While there is general disappointment that the news coverage focused on the incidence of drinking rather than what appears to be more serious charges of undue union influence and hostile work environment, the public response to this appears to be putting pressure on the city to do something. It is becoming a point of embarrassment. The City Manager's public response remains troubling, but behind the scenes there may be more acknowledgment that action must be taken.

We will have to wait and see until Monday to find out exactly what the plan is from the city's perspective.

From my perspective I don't understand the reluctance to independently investigate this issue. If the Chief is exonerated by such an investigation, the public will have much more confidence in such a report if it doesn't come from the city itself. A witch hunt is not what we need, just someone who is not predisposed to back the city at all costs.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting