Mayor, fire chief leap to judgment on EMT cheating

July 22, 2011

I was chagrined to see another blaring headline generated by senior officials accusing low-level subordinates of gross wrongdoing without a shred of evidence ("EMT training halted by city," July 19).

City leaders must deal with viral publicity every day. The appetite for news, particularly scandal, is almost impossible to satisfy.

But that moment of panic and dread when bad publicity is at its worst is the time for true leaders to stand tall and remain steadfast in commitment to due process. Protecting the most vulnerable members of an organization by demanding the facts before rushing to judgment is a true leader's most basic responsibility.

The facts in the trumpeted EMT cheating scandal are thin indeed; Fire Chief Jim Clack admitted that "we don't have much detail on this incident." Why not show some restraint and discretion until details emerge? Why rush out with a press conference, lock the school down (even that phrase implies some significant wrong-doing) and accuse your newest, youngest and most vulnerable department members with such inflammatory rhetoric?

This is the time to stand firm for due process and restraint. Judging from the lack of facts in the news article, this "scandal" could turn out to be a mistake by an instructor, a misunderstanding by a student or students, a misreading of a manual or teaching aid or false allegations by a complainant with a personal or political agenda.

Both the mayor and the fire chief appeared to make some effort at restraint — the mayor by saying she would "wait until the investigation had concluded" before rendering any judgment, and the chief by stating that he did not have much detail on the subject.

But then both officials appeared to "go political" with speculations about whose head might roll.

It used to be that we looked out for our youngest and most vulnerable employees. Now it seems, we eat them.

Robert Ward, Ellicott City

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