Deputy fire chief asserts `mistake' in use of plow

Private lane cleared with department's truck

February 05, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County snowplow that cleared a path to the home of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend wasn't the only public equipment used on private property during recent storms.

A deputy fire chief was reprimanded this week for using a Fire Department truck to plow the private lane in Essex where he, his state assemblyman father and another family member live.

"Obviously it was poor judgment on my part," said Deputy Chief Mark Weir. "I take full responsibility for what I did."

On the night of Jan. 25, after the unexpected nor'easter that dumped more than a foot of snow across the Baltimore region, Weir drove to the fire station closest to his house, picked up a plow-equipped Chevrolet pickup truck designed to battle brush fires and used it to clear Weir Lane, about four miles away.

By plowing the street, Weir, 43, also provided access for his father, Del. Michael H. Weir, an Essex Democrat, and his brother, Michael H. Weir Jr., a captain in the county Fire Department.

Weir said he thought it was important that his street be cleared quickly, because he is considered on call 24 hours a day. His county-issued Ford Crown Victoria sedan would have gotten stuck if he had tried to take it out, he said.

"In hindsight, I realize the appearance of taking advantage of my position," said Weir, one of five deputy chiefs, the second-highest ranking position in the department. "I screwed up. I could make all the excuses in the world, but I made a mistake and I have to suffer the consequences."

Those consequences include having an account of the incident placed in his personnel file, and reimbursing the county for the cost of an hour's worth of time in the truck.

Revelation of the infraction comes a few days after the husband of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend made news after he asked a county snowplow driver to clear his private street in Ruxton.

David Townsend contends that he believed the road he lives on is public. County workers say they heard Townsend threaten to wake County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger if the street wasn't cleared. Townsend denies that.

Fire Chief John F. O'Neill investigated the Weir incident after receiving an inquiry from fire union president Kevin B. O'Connor and issued his findings Thursday. While O'Neill would not disclose details of the decision, noting confidentiality of personnel decisions, Weir confirmed the reprimand and repayment plan.

"I was very disappointed to say the least," O'Neill said. "[Officers] are in a more responsible position. I think it was stupid, just dumb."

Delegate Weir, however, disagrees that his son did anything wrong.

"I don't think it really could be construed as a mistake," said the 25-year House member. He said the need to make access for essential county employees, like his sons, "justifies a couple of passes they made [with the plow]."

The delegate also took a swipe at O'Connor for making the initial inquiry, calling him a "little weasel."

"I don't have much use for him," Delegate Weir said.

This is not the first time the fire union has raised concerns about Mark Weir. The union criticized his promotion to deputy chief last September, saying Ruppersberger hand-picked Weir and another deputy chief through a tainted process that excluded other qualified applicants.

O'Connor said he harbors no ill will toward Mark Weir.

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