I’m skeptical that the mantle of leader somehow confers special wisdom or ethical commitment.
The implication that formal leaders can be entrusted to safeguard or inculcate ethics and morality is not born out by the facts generally nor in Fairfax, specifically.
One doesn’t become a leader and discover the importance of ethics; by then it is way too late.
If the process of identifying leaders doesn’t both discover and reward ethical behavior then expecting those leaders to act ethically is an act of delusion.
Unraveling the Mittendorff tragedy should include this issue and the role that it plays.
Demarcating ethical conduct as the province of leaders is both a cop-out and a loophole.
Some will opt out identifying themselves as non-leaders, especially in an organization like Fairfax which has historically mandated that an officer’s badge is the only ticket to leadership legitimacy and therefore ethical conduct.
The practical indicator of ethical conduct is the exhibition of personal responsibility and there is no automatic correlation with formal or conferred leadership status.
In fact, exactly the opposite is true: organizations which confer the trappings of leadership status minus the requirement of personal responsibility never fare well.
Fairfax has done just that.
Any one with even the slightest institutional memory will know that Fairfax has a long history of male officers engaging in blatantly inappropriate sexual encounters, some of them on-duty.
The norm becomes the touchstone for how many people conduct themselves and the norm in Fairfax is that sexual mis-conduct, including by senior leaders, will not lead to the loss of employment, even when subordinate employees are involved.
No one should lose sight of the fact that the bullying was sexual in nature and that current leaders effectively condone workplace sexualization.
The current Fire Chief may be off the hook for the incidents occurring before his time but he is fully responsible for how he has handled those on his watch and the effect his actions have had.
It has been reported that during his tenure a senior officer was involved in just such a workplace incident and was allowed to remain employed and to even continue in a role where his direct contact with susceptible employees actually increased.
If the assertion is correct, what does that say about Chief Richard Bowers’ commitment to a safe work environment, never mind the subject of leadership ethics?
Would Bowers be so daft as to not assume that the rank and file wouldÂ follow his lead where sex and work are concerned?
Did he have a clear chance to send a strong and ethical message and fail to do so?
The other day he said about the posts that, “We…are looking into the matter.”
He doesn’t have far to look as he as much as anyone else is responsible for the current climate.
IAFF Local 2068 is also responsible as they represent the vast majority of firefighters and paramedics.
In fact, the perpetrators of the sexual bullying are quite likely to be members.
What has president John Niemiec and his board done to prevent such incidents?
Is Â labor part of the problem with a relationship with the fire chief often described as beyond cozy?
There should be no high expectation that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will demand a full review and necessary changes.
After all, they are the crew who dithered for years over the John Geer fiasco, working tirelessly to hide the facts from the public.
If there is a legitimate investigation, by all means go after those proven to be bullying but don’t forget to have a good look at the leaders and the role they have played in creating the current atmosphere.
The right course would be for the Fairfax County Federation of Civic Associations to appoint a panel with full authority to investigate the incident, including holding public hearings, Â and to issue a report to the Board of Supervisors.
The Fire and Rescue Department serves the citizens of Fairfax County; somewhere that fact has been forgotten, along with the concept of personal responsibility.