Pasadena Council demands answers from city manager regarding fire chief’s removal
African American Leadership in Pasadena has “systemically diminished” according to the NAACP and concerned citizens of Pasadena. This has become a political hot potato in the wake of Fire Chief Bertral Washington’s employment with the city.
Pointing out the irony, especially during Black History Month, the issue of Washington’s removal from his executive position on the Fire Department has raised serious concerns of racism within the hallowed executive offices of City Hall.
Washington, who was apparently placed on administrative leave and then incredulously reassigned by City Manager Steve Mermell, has refused to comment on the matter. The issue, however, has come to the attention of the Pasadena NAACP membership and started a community dialog.
“This becomes more troubling especially after it has been reported by the community and internal city sources about the continued harassment Chief Washington has endured from the Pasadena Firefighters Association with the lack of support from City Manager Steve Mermell,” said NAACP President Allen Edson. “It appears that Fire Chief Bertral Washington’s reassignment was due to outside pressure from the association.”
The NAACP branch rallied the African American community and allies into Pasadena City Hall Monday and asked the question: “Has the Black community of the City of Pasadena become invisible?”
“The audacity to put Mr. Washington on leave a day after Martin Luther King Day then tries to embarrass him during Black History Month is another shining example of Pasadena city leadership which seems to be led by the fire union and shows lack of respect for the African American community,” said Edson.
During the public comment period of City Council meeting Monday, several council members voiced their displeasure and passionately questioned City Manager Mermell’s decision to reassign the fire chief after his five years on the job.
Councilman John Kennedy voiced some grave concerns and insisted the council should have been consulted on the matter. Claiming some have been treated unfairly by the city, Kennedy demanded that the city manager address and clarify his decision regarding Washington. The audience concurred and applauded the councilman’s commentary.
Kennedy asked City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris to inform the council on Mermell’s decision.
Victor Gordo also insisted that the council should have been consulted regarding the reassignment and said, “It’s all about fairness.”
Visibly upset with Mayor Tornek and the city manager’s silence, Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton insisted that he feels there is racism, particularly towards African Americans. Hampton also received an ovation for his profound comments.
When it was time for Mermell to speak, no new information was put forth and he told Edson “I hear you.”
At that point, the audience in the room let out a collective and angry sigh in response. Citing right to privacy, Mermell dismissed the issue as a personnel issue which is protected by law and so was unable to publicly discuss the matter.
The overall feeling in the community appears to be that Washington was railroaded out of his position.
As Hampton emphatically pointed out, he knows what “reassignment” means.
Edson said he was pleased with the turnout at council chambers Tuesday evening and is hopeful they will get to the truth behind his abrupt reassignment of the fire chief.
When asked if he felt there was an element of racism involved, Allen said he didn’t know, “but it doesn’t look good.”
Edson went on to say that the NAACP is currently planning a letter-writing campaign regarding this issue.