Jan 24 2006
10:44 pm

Looks like the local mainstream media is on board the anti-Perez train we were talking about yesterday. That's a shame. From everything I've heard so far it sounded like he was doing a good job and trying to raise the standards of the department.

According to the WBIR report, the KFD budget is a whole 2.5% over where it should be because of excessive overtime. And WBIR is now reporting that Chief Perez was fired from his previous job as chief of the Dekalb Co. Georgia Fire and Rescue department for similar problems when he promised firefighters extra overtime pay for responding to a tornado disaster.

The Mayor must have thought Perez would do a good job and must have not known anything about him getting fired from his previous job when he hired Perez just a little over a year ago. Here's what the Mayor said then:

"The city of Knoxville and its citizens will be well served by the depth and breadth of experience Chief Perez brings to the Knoxville Fire Department," said Mayor Haslam. "He is a proven leader in such critical areas as fire suppression and emergency medical services, and is a tested administrator versed in strategic planning, personnel and operational management."

Sounds pretty impressive. Too bad WBIR wasn't on the case back then to bring Chief Perez's previoius budget and employment problems to the Mayor's attention. It might have saved the City of Knoxville and the Mayor's Office a lot of embarrassment.

You have to wonder how WBIR was able to find out about this now, especially after it slipped by the City during the vetting process for this important position. Maybe WBIR got an anonymous flier in their mailbox.

But don't blame WBIR and the Mayor's Office. This Perez character apparently had everybody fooled:

Haslam scored an even bigger PR hit at an event he didn’t even attend.

Fire Chief Carlos Perez spoke Tuesday to the Fountain City Business and Professional Association.

His talk left folks saying, “Wow!” ...

Since coming to Knoxville, Perez has implemented National Incident Management System (NIMS) training – a FEMA program to standardize emergency procedures.

Also, KFD will be the first department in the southeast United States certified in CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive) hazardous materials. “By Oct. 14, we’ll have trained 100 percent of our firefighters,” he said.

“How I prepare the department is extremely important,” he said. “Our world is very different from our world on Sept. 10, 2001. Fire departments are retooling to meet the needs of today.

“Will terrorists attack us? I don’t know. But if a tornado hits Rohm & Haas, what’s the difference?”

Perez said Knoxville’s is the country’s first fire department to receive experimental communications equipment – GPS (global positioning system) cellular phones.

But seriously, from everything I've read about Chief Perez he sounds like a stand up guy who's committed to his profession and his firefighters.

The good-old-boy politics around here and the media's active role in it are sadly all too predictable. Expect the KNS to pile on tomorrow. The "You're-Not-From-Around-Here-Are-You-Guy-Leaving-To-Spend-More-Time-With-His-Family" countdown officialy starts now. I give it six to eight weeks.

OK, then.

UPDATE: Re. "Expect the KNS to pile on tomorrow," it appears they already started yesterday and I missed it:

The fire department is a quasi-military organization. It has a command structure with military-like designations: captain, assistant chief, deputy chief, chief. Employees have a duty to respect those positions of authority. As the department’s spokesman told the News Sentinel, ‘There’s a level of respect based on rank."

Respect for rank is one thing. Respect for the person who holds that rank is another.

When I served in the U.S. Army, I respected the rank of officers appointed over me and followed their orders as given – sometimes without respecting those individuals at all.

Other officers exhibited a style of personal professionalism and leadership that earned the deepest levels of respect and made me proud – even eager – to carry out their orders. They imbued me and others with a sense of confidence.

I’m struggling with the picture of one of my commanders filing a complaint with the Army base’s human resources office over an insult from a subordinate.

I wonder if by taking the issue to Civil Service, Chief Perez has hurt himself and made it harder to create such a climate of confidence. Maybe he had run out of options, and the Civil Service route was the only one left. Still, even then it’s a tough call. Perez is an outsider finding his way in an organization that is about as insider as it gets.

Be that as it may, he’s the leader.

In the long run Chief Perez might have been better off thanking city council and the mayor for their concern and advising them that as chief, he would deal with his department’s disciplinary issues himself.

Apparently "swiftboating" isn't just for presidential races any more.

Oren Incandenza's picture

The media misses

The media misses much.

Margie Nichols, Mayor Haslam's communications director, was of course the news director at WBIR for a long time. Either she and the Haslam team failed to vet Perez or they failed to anticipate the problems his background could cause. And do you think that when it came time to tube the guy, she didn't get the word to 'BIR first?

Also, no one seems to appreciate that there might be legitimate employment law-based reasons for the Chief's decision to go to Civil Service. Disciplining the insubordinate morons "internally" could get him and the City sued.

Bbeanster's picture

WBIR's hatchet job blew up

WBIR's hatchet job blew up on them, though.
After they went to tell us about his previous firing for "busting" the budget, as Robin so gramatically put it, we learn that it was because he stood up for his employees, who worked "19,000 hours of overtime" in the aftermath of a tornado and demanded that they be paid. (Man, that's a lotta hours. Could that possibly be right? Nineteen THOUSAND hours?)
This was one of those "so what" kind of stories that raises more questions about the motives of WBIR than about the chief.

R. Neal's picture

Yeah, and I read on the

Yeah, and I read on the googlenets that after he left DeKalb, his firefighters sued for the overtime and got it.

And the WBIR report says that he is paying overtime here to staff 28 unfilled positions for which people are in the training pipeline and coming on board soon. What's he supposed to do, just let stuff burn down until they're trained? Oh, wait. That's what they accused him of when that Krystal burned out on Kingston Pike. As I recall, it turns out there were public and firefighter safety issues invovled. (Beanster, didn't you write something about that? What was the deal?)

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