There is no denying my phone rings a lot. Calls come in all day in my office and each morning I’m often listening to messages left overnight. On my cellphone, I get a lot of calls and text messages every day — a mixed bag of work and personal. But since we broke the story about the Mount Vernon Fire Department captain who bared too much of himself, I’m noticing the battery on my cellphone runs out much faster than usual.
The story has become a hot button topic in the community and each conversation includes the question: “How does this officer still have a job?”
I don’t have an answer for that but I do direct callers to reach out to Mayor Richard Mavis, Safety-Service Director Joel Daniels or their council representative for an answer.
What I can answer is a common question: How do I learn about these incidents? Simply, it is because people talk. We all do it. Something happens at work and we talk to our significant other, a friend, a parent, someone at the grocery store, etc. Those people all repeat the information to their friends and family. Eventually, the information ends up with a person who thinks it’s important enough to notify the News. I could get a direct call or text to my cellphone, a call or visit to the office, email, voicemail, letters by mail or left in our overnight drop box and even messages through social media. The opportunities to reach out are abundant.
Chances are, that person willing to pass on what they’ve heard has no connection to the people at the center of the issue. My source on this story heard about it from someone with no ties to Knox County or the Mount Vernon Fire Department.
What I’m also learning, however, is that no matter who my sources are, once a story breaks, I start to hear more information at a faster pace. And, with every investigation into city personnel issues there is a resounding common thread. We heard it when former fire chief Shawn Christy was under investigation and a firefighter spoke to me about culture and morale of the department. We heard it again when we investigated allegations of abuse of power in the police department and what do you know — we heard it again this week. City officials threaten to fire whoever “leaked” the information to the News. What? Really? Why do administration and department heads immediately jump to the conclusion the source came from inside the department and why are they more concerned with the presumption of a tattletale rather than focusing their energy on doing the right thing and moving the situation into an acceptable conclusion? Why are there threats of termination for a supposed source but never steps taken to terminate the employee who broke city rules?
For a city that is suppose to have a whistleblower policy, it’s surprising how intolerant the powers that be are in situations like this. If that whistleblower process actually worked, firefighters would not have turned to the former fire chief when they were concerned the discipline issued was not sufficient.
The question administration and department heads need to ask shouldn’t be who spilled the beans, it should be when are they publicly going to admit the culture at the fire department they have created and fostered needs to change and what are they going to do to initiate the change?
Samantha Scoles is the managing editor of the Mount Vernon News. She can be reached at 740-397-5333, ext. 248, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.