Fire of­fi­cial gets de­mo­tion pa­pers

Hit for rep­ri­mands for beer

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY AN­DREA NO­BLE

A bat­tal­ion chief with the Dis­trict’s fire depart­ment has re­ceived or­ders he will be de­moted to the rank of cap­tain next month as a re­sult of his han­dling of the pun­ish­ment of two f iref ighters who were faulted for al­low­ing beer in their fire­house.

Re­duc­tion-in-rank pa­pers is­sued to Bat­tal­ion Chief Richard Sterne on Tues­day state that he will be de­moted to the rank of cap­tain on April 8. He es­ti­mates the de­mo­tion will cost him $12,000 in an­nual pay.

The de­mo­tion stems from Chief Sterne’s decision to rep­ri­mand rather than sus­pend two fire­fight­ers in­volved in a Septem­ber in­ci­dent in which a res­i­dent de­liv­ered two 12-packs of beer to a U Street North­west fire sta­tion to thank fire­fight­ers for ex­tin­guish­ing a fire at his home.

Fire­fight­ers de­clined to ac­cept the beer, but the man left it at the fire sta­tion and they put the beer into a re­frig­er­a­tor to get it out of public view.

Chief Ken­neth Ellerbe later dis­cov­ered the beer dur­ing a visit to the sta­tion. Chief Ellerbe closed the sta­tion for two hours

be­cause the U.S. at­tor­ney for the Dis­trict has been look­ing into his 2010 cam­paign since last year.

No one has been ac­cused of wrong­do­ing, and the mayor has en­cour­aged ob­servers to let the in­ves­ti­ga­tion play out. Nonethe­less, Mr. Gray and other of­fi­cials want to know whether the city’s cam­paign fi­nance of­fice is ad­e­quately equipped to vet dis­clo­sure forms from the li­tany of po­lit­i­cal races in the city.

“It re­ally is a daunt­ing task, and I think one of the things we need to look at is whether we have enough peo­ple there to be able to do what is re­quired,” Mr. Gray said, em­pha­siz­ing that he does not ques­tion the cal­iber of cur­rent staff. “I think this could be a fa­vor­able time to be able to do that.”

The OCF has re­viewed about $10 mil­lion in con­tri­bu­tions and $12 mil­lion in ex­pen­di­tures in the past two years, spokesman Wes­ley Wil­liams said.

He said the of­fice has a di­rec­tor and 16 em­ploy­ees, with four au­di­tors among them.

“De­spite these staff lim­i­ta­tions, we do con­duct ex­ten­sive re­views of all re­ports filed,” Mr. Wil­liams said. “We all take our jobs very se­ri­ously and we are ded­i­cated to the mis­sion of this of­fice. Yet, ad­di­tional staff and other re­sources would al­ways be wel­comed.”

The mayor’s bud­get pro­posal for fis­cal 2013 is ex­pected to pro­vide ad­di­tional staffing to the Of­fice of Cam­paign Fi­nance, although specifics will not be known un­til he sends the spend­ing plan to the coun­cil Fri­day.

Coun­cil mem­ber Jacks Evans, Ward 2 Demo­crat, used an op­por­tu­nity to speak at Tues­day’s leg­isla­tive meet­ing to call for ad­di­tional re­sources at the OCF.

“You need a first-class au­dit­ing of­fice over there who is go­ing to take this stuff se­ri­ously,” Mr. Evans said Wed­nes­day.

Mr. Wil­liams said ad­di­tional staff should be hired on a per­ma­nent ba­sis, not tem­po­rar­ily dur­ing an elec­tion year.

Mean­while, some city law­mak­ers and ac­tivists have been scru­ti­niz­ing cor­po­rate in­flu­ence in city cam­paigns and the best way to reg­u­late money or­ders, which were tagged as a po­ten­tial ve­hi­cle for “straw donors” who let some­one else use their name to cir­cum­vent max­i­mum con­tri­bu­tion lim­its.

Coun­cil mem­ber Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Demo­crat, has in­tro­duced sep­a­rate bills to ban cor­po­rate do­na­tions and to treat money-or­der con­tri­bu­tions as if they were cash, cap­ping them at $25.

Mr. Gray said the money-or­der bill “is an idea that has merit” but should be just one slice of com­pre­hen­sive re­form.

“You know we can do a piece here, a piece here and a piece else­where and — per­haps in the course of it — un­wit­tingly miss the larger picture.”

Coun­cil Chair­man Kwame R. Brown said Wed­nes­day that he is al­ready work­ing with Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Demo­crat and chair­man of the Com­mit­tee on Gov­ern­ment Op­er­a­tions, to fash­ion a com­pre­hen­sive cam­paign fi­nance bill by this sum­mer.

Mr. Evans said he also fa­vors an over­ar­ch­ing re­view in­stead of “knee­jerk” leg­is­la­tion, but “I don’t think the prob­lem is the law.”

“The laws are fine,” he said. “You re­ally have to com­ply with the law.”

J.M. ED­DINS JR./THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Mary Wheat­ley of Riverdale helps Liam Teague Ous­ley, 3, of Bal­ti­more climb a tree at the Na­tional Ar­bore­tum in the Dis­trict on Wed­nes­day. The spring blos­soms of­fer vis­i­tors a spec­tac­u­lar view.

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