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NAACP, Councilmen Call for Answers in Fire Chief Reassignment

Published on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 | 5:44 am
NAACP Pasadena Branch President Allen Edson, Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell, and Fire Chief Bertral Washington.

[Updated] At a standing room only City Council meeting on Monday, members of the Pasadena NAACP rallied to support embattled Fire Chief Bertral Washington.

Chief Washington was reassigned to the City Manager’s office last Thursday to perform work on the city’s Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) program.

However, some local residents have questioned the decision and its timing in Black History Month.

The residents claim Washington was moved to the City Manager’s office after allegedly being placed on administrative leave in January due to frequent battles with the Pasadena Firefighters Association.

The city has not confirmed Washington was placed on administrative leave.

“The situation displays no effort to correct injustice,” said NAACP president Allen Edson. “The reason for his firing has not been made public. Why has the firefighters association not spoken up on his behalf? It is known in the community that they have has been working against the chief since he was hired.”

Edson also asked if Washington had been afforded due process.

A Reporter’s Notebook containing the City Council’s full discussion on this topic will be posted later today

Mermell acknowledged the members of the NAACP that attended the event, but could not discuss Washington’s employment because he is barred from discussing personnel issues.

Washington was hired by then-City Manager Michael Beck in 2014. He came to Pasadena from the Clark County Fire Department in Nevada. Prior to serving as Clark County Fire Chief, he worked for Las Vegas Fire and Rescue moving through the ranks as a firefighter, paramedic, training officer, Captain, Battalion Chief and Assistant Chief.

Washington was selected from a pool of about 42 applicants from across the country. Several finalists were chosen by a selection panel of community members, Fire Department staff, executive leadership team representatives and fire chiefs from other jurisdictions.

“I hear you,” Mermell said. “I hear the concern in your voice and I see the conviction in your eyes. Chief Washington has an absolute right to privacy. I cannot or will not comment on the matter.”

Washington has not commented on the allegations and did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Councilman John Kennedy and Vice Mayor Tryon Hampton joined the NAACP in calling for answers.

Hampton said he was taken aback when he heard that Washington has been reassigned and called on members of the NAACP to keep coming back to the City Council.

“Because a small group who work within the department have decided they have issues with the Chief, for our City Manager to reassign him is extremely disappointing,” Hampton said. “I expect each of you come back until our fire chief is reinstated.”

Hampton praised Washington for increasing diversity in the department.

Councilman John Kennedy asked City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris to inform the council on what it could to do contravene Mermell’s decision.

“We need to explore whether the Fire Chief’s due process rights were violated,” Kennedy said.   .

Kennedy also wanted to know if Mermell had consulted with any councilmembers before he made the decision to reassign Washington.

“I hope just like the Vice Mayor that this is not a one-time situation, because are so many other issues as it relates to African Americans being represented vertically and horizontally in this city,” Kennedy said.  “You may not have had to endure the racism, the jingoism, hegemony, etcetera that black people and other minorities have had to endure. Until you take extra steps to make amends for those past behaviors do not tell me about percentages.

I won’t buy it, and I don’t believe anybody in this room will buy that.”

After Washington was reassigned Mermell confirmed to Pasadena Now that Washington is still a city employee and has not received a reduction in pay.

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