10/31/08 — Chief Ward off the job; city says little

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Chief Ward off the job; city says little

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 31, 2008 1:46 PM

Alvin Ward - former chief

Fire Chief Alvin Ward is no longer a Goldsboro employee, but two days after he cleaned out his desk, officials at City Hall still refuse to disclose whether he was fired or resigned.

Mayor Al King said Thursday evening he simply did not know.

"All I know is that Ward is gone," he said.

And the person King said would know, City Manager Joe Huffman, declined to comment on the matter, except to say that no resignation letter was on file downtown.

Gary Whaley, a former assistant chief, has been named acting chief until a search for a permanent one is launched and completed.

No timetable was given by Huffman or Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan regarding that search.

Ward's departure came just more than a month after 15 people attended a news conference held by the local branch of the NAACP -- an event aimed at bringing attention to what they described as questionable promotion practices within the Fire Department.

Chapter president Sylvia Barnes said then that the NAACP had been investigating issues within the department since early summer, when several firefighters approached her with concerns.

"We have received complaints from the firemen, complaints centered around the unfair promotion practices ... an intimidating workplace environment and the city's due process procedures," she said Sept. 22.

Mrs. Barnes said the specific complaint was that the promotion of several black firefighters had been put on hold after complaints were filed by white applicants who were turned down.

Five people had applied for three potential promotions, she said, slots that were initially awarded to two firefighters who are black, and one who is white.

But according to Mrs. Barnes, those who were not promoted went to Huffman, who then put all promotions on hold.

"Two other men that were not chosen, who were whites, went to Huffman," Mrs. Barnes said.

After the news conference, Huffman declined to respond, saying only that "there are legal limits to what I can say."

King would not speculate on whether the complaints made by the NAACP led to Ward's departure.

Neither would Huffman nor Ms. Logan.

But the mayor did say he is aware of "many problems" inside the Fire Department.

"Based on the facts I have, something needed to change down there," he said Thursday. "Now, whether Ward's resignation or termination was that change that needed to be made, I don't know. But I should by this time next week."

In the meantime, Whaley said he hopes "myself and my staff can move forward and do great things for the citizens of Goldsboro."

"Our No. 1 priority is to be the best we can be for the city," he said. "That's what we're going to do."

Attempts to contact Ward were unsuccessful.

-- Staff Writers Anessa Myers and Nick Hiltunen contributed to this report.