War of words over HFD

July 28, 2009 4:35:27 AM PDT
A forceful letter has been sent to a Houston city council member who is demanding answers about allegations of racism and sexism within the Houston Fire Department. [READ IT: The letter sent to Council Member Jolanda Jones]

Eyewitness News obtained a copy of that letter sent to Councilmember Jolanda Jones by the Houston Professional Firefighter's Association. This, as the city struggles to deal with the controversies, which include reports of nooses found in lockers and hateful graffiti sprayed inside a fire station.

Jones is known for her outspoken nature, but the Houston Firefighters Union is blasting her for her conduct during a recent meeting to discuss the racial incidents at the fire department.

In a sharply worded letter, union President Jeff Caynon says, "What evolved at the meeting shocked and disappointed us. Our attempts to answer your questions and update you were repeatedly interrupted and shouted down when our knowledge of the situation contradicted your inaccurate conclusions. Worse yet were your threats, attempts to intimidate, profane outbursts, and racist ranting."

"The letter says what it says," said Caynon. "I stand by the comments in the letter."

Councilmember Jones didn't back down from her comments.

"I had the meeting with you (Caynon) not withstanding what the people said to me," said Jones. "I said, 'But you know what, if you think just because we're having this meeting and just because you're black and I'm black and just because you're the president of the union, the same union that isn't helping Jane (Draycott), I'm just going to listen to you because you're pulling a black card? Wrong answer'."

The lengthy letter continues, in another section, Caynon says, "I was astounded and disgusted by your description of me at the restaurant meeting as a "house Negro" interested only in keeping a job. You imply that I am not really "black" because I do not share your biased point of view. I do not know where to begin in responding, except to say that you and the race-baiting opportunists criticizing HFD deserve one another."

"I think that at this point, I think cooler heads need to get involved in the issue, come to the table, open minded and talk about solutions," said Caynon.

The scathing letter is the latest turn in the growing tension among firefighters and some elected officials since July, when the racist graffiti was discovered in the lockers of two women firefighters. Thursday afternoon, HFD Chief Phil Boriskie tried to calm things down.

"It's our normal family interpersonal relationships, that are normal in your family and in mine and my fire department family that we're struggling with right now," he said.

The incident involving the cadet was one of the first we heard about. A noose was found in a captain's locker in March. In May, two firefighters were heard making racial comments over a two-way radio. And earlier this month, two women firefighters claimed they were targets of racist and sexist graffiti found in their locker room.

Two Houston city council members spent the day in Washington, trying to get more money to put more police officers on the street. Council Members Melissa Noriega and Ed Gonzales went to the nation's capital to lobby for money to fund additional HPD academy sessions. Police Chief Harold Hurtt says the department needs 1,100 more officers to fill a manpower shortage.

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