The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City lacks Standards of Accountability in Leadership
Lee Walton

Effective leaders hold themselves accountable just like everyone else on the team. Maintaining such accountability involves seeking complete honesty. Skilled leaders consistently receive feedback from those who work above them, beside them and for them. A failure to provide a structure for such accountability will lead to a crisis of character and leadership. - Zondervan

As predictable as gnats on a spring evening, Mayor J. Pericles Riley pitched a world-class temper tantrum this past week after SC OSHA released its revealing and profoundly critical assessment of the Charleston Fire Department’s leadership and organizational meltdown on the evening of June 18th that resulted in the tragic death of nine firefighters. Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of OSHA’s scathing indictment of the CFD command structure and “willful” leadership indifference, Riley now has the unmitigated gall and audacity to challenge these findings as “incorrect conclusions” that, when “factored out”, would be ”…an affirmation of the leadership of the fire department…”. What world class hypocrisy!

On countless occasions over the past three months, Riley has boasted that he would quickly release all forthcoming investigative reports to the public and move quickly to implement recommended changes to mold the CFD into a model “…whose standards are equal to or exceed national and international best practices.” Now when faced with the extremely critical OSHA findings, Riley polemically cries, “…We want to get to the truth…” With due respect Mr. Mayor - YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

Council Member Fishburne was recently quoted by the Palter & Chatter as stating after reviewing the OSHA findings, “ … I’ve seen enough to know that we have a major problem that is the result of failed leadership, training, tactics and equipment …The Mayor has chosen, even in the face of this report and even with the deaths of nine men, to deny we have a problem.” Fishburne is far from being alone with his assessment. The same news article quoted Henry Howard, a national fire safety expert who has written extensively on the Sofa Super Store tragedy, as stating that the OSHA report “was pretty much on the money. I think this was probably expected to occur by everyone.” Why then has Riley and his trusted chief pettifogger, Charming Charlton, suddenly turned on OSHA, the state agency responsible for regulating work place safety, like a pair of vicious mad dogs? Are they fearful of the real truth revealed by an independent agency acting beyond Riley’s manipulative influence and control?

In the mounting “fire storm” of calls for CFD leadership changes and accountability, there is a profound irony that reflects directly upon the ideals of a younger Riley who once extolled the virtues of both change and progress as he admonished the citizens of Charleston not to “ … languish in the faded memories of by-gone eras, in rocking chairs on the verandas of the mind.” Why then is Riley still languishing in a rocking chair on the veranda of his mind and indefensibility defending a fire chief that is, in the words of the president of the SC Professional Firefighters Association, “…a ‘dinosaur’ who clings to tradition while the profession has evolved and become more safety-conscious”?

This tragedy underscores what can happen when an elected leader is driven solely by personal political gain and false vision. Riley has failed to create an administrative structure under which he and his chosen department heads are answerable to the electorate for how they execute the responsibilities of governance delegated to them. Effective political leaders don’t wait for a crisis to establish accountability. They establish structure and relationships that will harness the best qualities that their chosen delegates have to offer and then unleash their full potential with openness, honesty and integrity.

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