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Originally published March 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 19, 2009 at 4:46 PM

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Seattle fire official reportedly misused position; demanded Hannah Montana concert tickets

A Seattle Fire Department lieutenant failed to bill the owner of Qwest Field for nearly $200,000 in fire services and misused his position as a fire inspector when he demanded two all-access backstage passes to a Hannah Montana concert at KeyArena, the city's top ethics watchdog has found.

Seattle Times staff reporters

A Seattle Fire Department lieutenant failed to bill the owner of Qwest Field for nearly $200,000 in fire services and misused his position as a fire inspector when he demanded two all-access backstage passes to a Hannah Montana concert at KeyArena, the city's top ethics watchdog has found.

The report, released Wednesday, found that Lt. Milton Footer's failure to seek or recoup the money from First & Goal from 2002 to 2007 was a "gross waste of public funds." The report also levels criticism at Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean and Fire Marshal Kenneth Tipler for failing to discipline Footer after the accusations surfaced.

Tipler announced his retirement from the Fire Department on Tuesday, although a department spokeswoman said the timing was a coincidence.

The report reveals tensions and morale problems in the department over Dean's handling of the case. Footer's ethics violation has been a "tipping point for many in the department" who see his lack of punishment as undercutting the department's values, according to the report by Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics & Elections Commission.

Barnett said there was no indication that Footer benefited financially from his failure to bill the Paul Allen-owned company. Barnett also said his five-month investigation found no evidence that other fire inspectors violated the city's ethics code.

The only benefit the report found that Footer had received were two passes to the 2007 Hannah Montana concert. In his role as fire inspector, Footer also worked with KeyArena officials.

In response to the report, Mayor Greg Nickels announced Wednesday plans to immediately appoint an outside investigator to review the appropriate level of discipline for those involved.

Footer, who has been placed on paid administrative leave by the department pending further investigation, declined to comment Wednesday.

Dean and Tipler were criticized in the report for failing to be "effective stewards of public funds ... despite warnings" and for giving Footer only verbal counseling when the allegations against him came to light last year, the report says.

Barnett said Dean "did not ... satisfactorily discipline the lieutenant for his breach of the public trust."

A call to Dean's office was referred to Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick. Dean could not be reached at home. A spokesman for Nickels said the mayor still has confidence in Dean, even though the report raises "serious and significant issues, and they run the gamut and include Dean."

Fitzpatrick said Tipler, a 33-year veteran of the department, had been planning to retire and that his announcement Tuesday was coincidental.

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Fitzpatrick said the department will review business practices in the Fire Marshal's Office and implement new procedures for tracking billing. Fitzpatrick also said additional accounting oversight will ensure that bills are submitted and paid on time.

The investigation was launched in October, after the ethics commission received a whistle-blower complaint about Footer's actions. According to the report, several Fire Department officials were upset because Footer had received only a verbal warning after the billing failures and his request for concert tickets came to light.

According to the report, Tipler met with Dean to discuss disciplining Footer. Dean warned Tipler that disciplining or rotating Footer out of the position would create a "shit storm" and that Tipler would "own it." Dean later told the ethics-commission staff that he was referring to the union grievance that was sure to follow.

According to the report, Footer failed to process about 70 invoices for $195,697 due the Fire Department that were generated between 2002 and 2007.

Footer told ethics investigators he submitted the bills through interoffice mail, but "didn't know where they went," the report says. Barnett said it's implausible that Footer put 70 envelopes in interoffice mail and that all but six were lost.

When asked about the invoices by Fire Department Capt. Chris Greene, the report says, Footer "shrugged his shoulders."

According to the report, First & Goal was required to hire off-duty firefighters, called fireguards, during public events. The Fire Department was supposed to pay the fireguards and then bill First & Goal for their services, but those bills never were sent to First & Goal, according to the report.

Barnett said the city will bill First & Goal for the firefighter services.

Calls to First & Goal were not immediately returned.

The report also recounts a conversation that a First & Goal vice president had with Footer in 2004.

First & Goal was trying to terminate a 2001 contract with the city that called for the company to pay the salary and benefits, and provide office space, for a lieutenant fire inspector at the football stadium. When First & Goal told the Fire Department that the company wanted to end the contract, Vice President Jeff Klein said, he received a call from Footer, who commented about stadium "doors not opening" if fire officials didn't do an inspection.

Klein said he took Footer's comment "to be arm twisting." Klein sent an e-mail to the department rescinding the company's contract termination letter.

Footer also explained to department officials and ethics investigators that he had obtained the backstage pass for his fiancée to attend the Hannah Montana concert while he was working the event. He told the commission that he believed that was allowed under the department's policy that allows civilians to a "ride-along" on a fire truck responding to a 911 call.

A KeyArena official told ethics investigators that Footer was "terse, arrogant and threatening" when he asked for the passes, according to the commission report.

Edie Burke, director of operations for the city-owned arena, told investigators that she understood from others that you "take care of Milt or you will have problems."

Over several years, the report says, Fire Department employees "from the deputy chief level down have voiced their concerns" to Tipler and Dean about Footer's tenure at Qwest Field. The response, according to the report, has ranged from the union "contract precludes us from moving him" to "you have it out for Milt."

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times staff reporters Emily Heffter and Jim Brunner contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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