Controversy swirls around councilmember's visit

January 15, 2011 8:45:59 PM PST
There's a new controversy involving the Houston Fire Department. It all revolves around an unexpected visit from a city councilmember, and what the councilmember is accused of saying has the union all upset. The allegations are against Houston city Councilmember Jolanda Jones concerning an unannounced visit Friday to Fire Station Number 8 in downtown Houston. Firefighters there allege Jones used profanity and other inappropriate comments. The complaints were made by firefighters to their union president, who is out of town and spoke to us over the phone.

"She said, 'You guys got four (expletive) stoves and four (expletive) refrigerators' and she went on like that," said Jeff Caynon with the Houston Professional Firefighters Association.

Caynon also alleges the councilmember had disparaging remarks regarding the behavior of the firefighters at Station 8.

"She says, 'You guys don't work. You come here and just sit around and sit down on your recliners and watch TV,'" said Caynon. "The problem is its once again another in a pattern of erratic behavior we've seen from Councilmember Jones."

The councilmember's office confirms she was at the station Friday on a scavenger hunt with staff members. When asked about the colorful language, her office would only reply, 'She's a colorful person.'

In the meantime, the union says it's not the complaints that concern them.

"If she had a complaint, it should have gone to the appropriate channels," said Caynon.

Councilmember James Rodriguez, whose district includes Station 8, issued this response:

    "This is a very serious allegation. I am concerned about the safety of my constituents and the firefighters that serve our city. I have asked Mayor Parker to look into this matter.

Jolanda Jones released a statement to us Saturday night. It reads:

    "This is an obvious misunderstanding. As part of an educational exercise, I accompanied various people on my staff to several city facilities to familiarize them with the services we provide so that we can do a better job of serving the public. I'm particularly baffled since at Fire Station 8, we asked what we could do to help. For example, in just the last month, I've helped get a faulty sewage system repaired at Fire Station 55 and heat restored to the dormitory side of Fire Station 17. It's no secret that some members of the Firefighters' union have been upset by my advocacy for eliminating harassment and discrimination in the department, particularly against women members. I will continue my efforts to make our Fire Department the best in America for the safety and well-being of both our firefighters and the public."

Over the last several months, there have been several allegations of racism and sexism in the Houston Fire Department. In one case, female firefighters claimed there were racist comments scrawled at a fire station. But the newest allegations have nothing to do with that case or the others.

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