The Seattle Fire Department's Lt. Milton Footer is on administrative leave after KOMO TV uncovered his failure to bill $195,679 to Qwest Field and other local venues for city services. He is also accused of abusing his power to get two backstage passes to a 2007 Hannah Montana concert for him and his fiance.
Equally troubling is the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission's finding that "potential for misconduct is extremely high" under the leadership of Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean. An earlier review by Dean suggested that Footer's actions were an "honest mistake."
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels promised to assign an outside investigator to look into the matter. "I'm going to take the actions I think are necessary to ensure that the fire department is doing its job appropriately, honestly and in a timely manner," he said. "Will the chief's job be on the line? We'll see what the ethics commission has to say."
Now, the whistle-blower behind the ethic commission's investigation, Battalion Chief James Woodbury, is claiming he was demoted from deputy chief and assistant fire marshal after he filed his complaint against Footer in January.
Clearly there are bad apples in every bunch. First responders of course are no different. However, we should do our best to strengthen our procedures and policies to discourage a culture of corruption or incompetency -- whatever the case may be. A whistle-blower, no matter how embarrassing his or her complaint can become, should be honored for bucking the social conventions that restrain truth telling and encourage abuse.
I hope the mayor is sincere in his desire to uncover the truth, both the good and the ugly. As the saying goes, those who don't learn from their mistakes are likely to repeat them.