Sunday, January 24, 1999

The land of the brazen

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “We pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of Clintonia, one nation, under Bill, unaccountable, with liberty from justice for all.”

        Welcome to America the not-so-beautiful.

        It's a place where you can choke your coach — and the team can't fire you.

        It's a place where pregnant teens belong in the honor society — because the fine print did not stipulate that having illegitimate children is not honorable.

        It's a place where two Cincinnati 911 workers can argue with police and witnesses and refuse to send help for 47 minutes while two cops die in pools of blood. And there is no penalty. Not even a demerit.

        “Nobody thinks anybody else oughta be held accountable for their actions,” said a dumbfounded and angry Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey after both women won their jobs back, with back pay. “The arbitrators want to put the blame on everybody under the sun but the person responsible.”

        Does that sound familiar? I didn't ask Mr. Shirey what he thinks about what is going on in Washington. But he was very clear about what's happening at City Hall — and his words have the same sound of disbelief and shock you hear from victims of a train wreck when justice is derailed.

        “One arbitrator agreed with the charges and conclusions by the hearing officers, but then said (the worker) should not be held accountable,” Mr. Shirey said. “To agree there was wrongdoing and then say there should be no punishment is incongruous. The internal logic does not follow. These guys are just flat wrong.”

        “These guys” are arbitrators from the American Arbitration Association — the same “triple A” that NBA player Latrell Sprewell called to haul his sorry carcass out of a jam after he tried to strangle his coach. That AAA arbitrator found no harm, no foul, and put him back on the team.

        AAA arbitrators did the same thing in Cincinnati: Fred Kindig ruled to reinstate 911 dispatcher Eugenia Boiman on Jan. 5; David Stanton reinstated 911 operator Angela Gibson on Tuesday.

        Both women were fired by Mr. Shirey for “egregious” blunders that delayed help for Spc. Ronald Jeter and Officer Daniel Pope, shot as they served a warrant in Clifton Heights on Dec. 6, 1997. The killer, Alonzo Davenport, ran a few blocks from the shooting scene and took his own life.

        The 911 tapes are not for weak stomachs. Ms. Boiman overrules cops who ask for help. Finally, after stubbornly insisting the only shooting was the killer's suicide, she orders a run — then cancels it.

        Ms. Gibson takes a call from a panicked man who pleads “Please, please!” for help. “They is dyin'!” he yells in frustration. But Ms. Gibson insists “you're NOT involved,” puts him on hold and fails to report it.

        Mr. Kindig ruled that Ms. Boiman was a “scapegoat,” and blamed Ms. Gibson. Mr. Stanton decided Ms. Gibson didn't cause the officers deaths — they did. He said her firing was the “emotional byproduct of outrage and grief.”

        Mr. Shirey retorted, “I took a long time to think about it, from December to March. It's an insult to suggest we made the decision based on emotion.”

        Mistakes by the officers are irrelevant. “They used the excuse that the officers did not report their position. But what if it was just two civilians lying there?” Mr. Shirey argued. “What if they were wounded, but not mortally? What if they could have gotten to the hospital soon enough to save their lives?”

        He vows to fight the decisions, but said arbitrators “don't answer to anyone.”

        He's right. Frank Zotto, AAA's national vice president for case management, said angry citizens “can call anybody they want, but AAA has no authority to do anything.”

        Among 90,000 arbitration cases handled by his company each year, he said, “I'm guessing less than 1 percent are overturned in court.” He referred protests to the local AAA office: 525 Vine St., Suite 1070, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

        Or write to the AFSCME Union that filed grievances for the “excellent” 911 workers: Yodie Mitchell, 1213 Tennessee Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45229.

        But if you have to call 911, be patient. Morale is probably pretty low right now, Mr. Shirey said. “More so for the police.”

        The cops have to rely on Ms. Gibson and Ms. Boiman, who has already returned to her job as if nothing has happened.

        “I wondered if Ms. Boiman would come to someone and say "I don't really feel good about going back there, can I be reassigned to public works or something?' That hasn't happened,” Mr. Shirey said.

        It sounds like the behavior was reprehensible, but it doesn't rise to the level of removal. After all, if the president can get away with crimes, why should a 911 worker lose her job for a mistake?

        Welcome to Clintonia — land of the guilt-free and the home of the brazen.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.