Fire official gets demotion papers
Hit for reprimands for beer
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.”
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.