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Deceive the public, but don’t dare mislead city manager

Post by Kim Bradford on May 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
May 1, 2011 2:54 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson says he intends his reprimand of the police chief to underscore the importance of being forthright.

He should forgive many Tacomans for inferring an entirely different message: Public deception is excusable; making the boss look bad is not.

Anderson initially found no fault with Chief Don Ramsdell for covering up the real reason it took the police department 12 hours to issue an Amber Alert after the abduction of 12-year-old Zina Linnik.

Quite the contrary. The city manager ardently defended Ramsdell, insisting the public wasn’t misled when police officials attributed the delay to necessary police work rather than confess that the officer asked to issue the alert fell asleep.

That was until Friday, when the city manager stopped making excuses for the chief.

Anderson instead charged Ramsdell with failure to meet expectations after The News Tribune’s records request revealed that the person responsible for Amber Alerts – police spokesman Mark Fulghum – was not off duty as Anderson had claimed.

“The chief knew or should have known” that Fulghum was on call the morning after Zina’s abduction, Anderson said. That Ramsdell didn’t share that information was “unacceptable.”

What changed? Anderson says he has a two-strikes policy with his department directors, and the chief made one mistake too many.

Perhaps it was the pattern that made the crime. But the about-face from apologist to disciplinarian smacks of a city leader who was far more comfortable being privy to a deceit than being misled himself.

Anderson says he learned about Fulghum’s failure to issue the Amber Alert in 2009. By the time the public discovered the lapse – by way of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Zina’s family and questioning by this newspaper’s reporters – the city manager had long known the truth.

Not so the information about Fulghum’s paid status. Anderson says he assumed the officer was off duty, and Ramsdell never corrected him. In the end, the release of Fulghum’s timecard gave the lie to not only Anderson’s characterization but also his assurances that the officer’s error warranted no further review.

Fulghum now faces – in addition to a heap of humiliation – an internal affairs investigation into whether he violated department policy by taking an over-the-counter sleep aid while he was on call.

His boss, Chief Ramsdell, has a letter of reprimand citing “a breach of trust” – Anderson didn’t specify whose trust – and can look forward to an independent review of his department’s handling of Zina’s horrific murder.

As for the city manager himself, when asked whether he would do anything differently – such as initiating a review of the police department’s cover story when he learned of it two years ago – Anderson admits no failings.

That’s alarming. Someone who doesn’t own their mistakes is bound to repeat them.

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