Advertising

The Seattle Times Company

NWjobs | NWautos | NWhomes | NWsource | Free Classifieds | seattletimes.com

Local News


Our network sites seattletimes.com | Advanced

Originally published Thursday, March 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Comments (0)     E-mail E-mail article      Print Print      Share Share

Did Seattle fire chief protect inspector in ethics case?

The whistle-blower who helped expose an ethics scandal in the Seattle Fire Department believes Fire Chief Gregory Dean went out of his way to protect Lt. Milt Footer, the inspector accused of failing to collect $195,697 for fire services and misusing his badge to get backstage passes to a Hannah Montana concert.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The whistle-blower who helped expose an ethics scandal in the Seattle Fire Department believes Fire Chief Gregory Dean went out of his way to protect Lt. Milt Footer, the inspector accused of failing to collect $195,697 for fire services and misusing his badge to get backstage passes to a Hannah Montana concert.

Why Dean would go to such lengths — insisting that Footer stay in his job and receive only a verbal warning — isn't clear to Battalion Chief Jim Woodbury, who filed a whistle-blower complaint with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission in October.

Woodbury said Wednesday that Footer had access to Dean that allowed him to go around the chain of command and meet directly and frequently with the chief. Footer works in the fire marshal's office, which Dean ran before Mayor Greg Nickels named him chief in 2004.

A five-month investigation by the commission concluded that Dean did not sufficiently discipline Footer for failing to collect the money from First & Goal and demanding the passes for his fiancée and him from a KeyArena employee. Dean put Footer on administrative leave last week after the ethics report was released.

Questions for Dean were directed Wednesday to Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, who declined to comment on specific questions until the mayor's office completes two investigations by private lawyers it has hired.

One investigation is looking at whether Dean retaliated against Woodbury's whistle-blowing by demoting him from deputy chief to battalion chief — a 22-percent cut in his pay, Woodbury says. The other is looking at whether Dean handed out appropriate discipline to Footer and others.

"We don't know if Mr. Woodbury's assertions are true but we're going to find out," Ceis said, adding that the mayor "takes this very seriously."

In his whistle-blower complaint and records from the city's follow-up investigation, Woodbury reveals more than Footer's alleged misdeeds.

He reported that one civilian Fire Department employee, a payroll supervisor, asked a captain if he could get her tickets to an Alicia Keys concert "or is that just a Milt Footer thing?"

Woodbury also reported that a department employee, whom he declined to name in an interview, had given permits for hazardous materials without conducting inspections.

Ceis declined to comment on the allegations. Footer has also declined to comment.

A 22-year department veteran, Woodbury said firefighters are chagrined about the ethics report. "I believe morale is low. I think people have expectations that the people responsible should be accountable."

advertising

Footer is a special-events inspector and primarily works under an agreement between the Seattle Fire Department and Paul Allen's company First & Goal, which operates Qwest Field and the Qwest Events Center.

The agreement gives priority inspection services to First & Goal in exchange for paying Footer's salary and benefits.

Separately, First & Goal hires six fireguards — city firefighters working overtime — at football games and other special events to maintain stadium fire safety.

Footer was in charge of billing the stadium since 2001 for fireguard services. But the ethics investigation found the department hadn't billed the stadium for $195,697 in fireguard services between 2002 and 2007.

Footer claimed he put about 70 bills in interoffice mail but all but six bills were lost. Ethics investigators found that explanation implausible.

First & Goal has said it will pay after a careful review of records.

Woodbury said Footer "crossed the line" and acted more like a First & Goal employee than a firefighter. Echoing the ethics investigation, Woodbury said it's problematic when a company, such as First & Goal, pays the salary of someone who is supposed to regulate it.

Just before Woodbury filed his ethics complaint, Dean called Wayne Barnett, the city's top ethics watchdog, and told Barnett he'd probably get a whistle-blower complaint about the concert tickets.

Dean told Barnett not to worry about it because it had been handled, according to Woodbury. Barnett confirmed his account.

Two other department employees besides Woodbury signed the whistle-blower complaint in October. But only Woodbury, the most senior of the trio, has gone public. He believes he was singled out because he was the most outspoken critic of Footer's.

Dean demoted Woodbury in January, attributing the move to budget cuts. Woodbury complained later that month to the mayor, saying Dean had retaliated against him.

Woodbury said he and 10 other deputy chiefs expected that one of them would be demoted in departmental belt-tightening, but that it would be done by seniority. "There were five chiefs above me and five below. I was exactly in the middle" in seniority, he said.

Woodbury said he believes his career has been damaged by his demotion and rumors related to it. One anonymous firefighter contacted The Seattle Times and complained that Woodbury "had to stick the knife in, and turn it" by alerting the media to the ethics scandal.

"I did not contact the media," Woodbury said.

He contends that only a few fire department employees have engaged in improper behavior. "It's certainly less than 10 individuals ... the majority of fire department employees are very good and dedicated."

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

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

More Local News headlines...

E-mail E-mail article      Print Print      Share Share

Comments
No comments have been posted to this article.


Get home delivery today!

More Local News

UPDATE - 09:46 AM
Exxon Mobil wins ruling in Alaska oil spill case

NEW - 7:51 AM
Longview man says he was tortured with hot knife

Longview man says he was tortured with hot knife

Longview mill spills bleach into Columbia River

NEW - 8:00 AM
More extensive TSA searches in Sea-Tac Airport rattle some travelers

Advertising

Video

Marketplace

Advertising