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7/22/2006
Councilman Weiner joins other Council member in urging an increased pool of prospective employees for County service so that taxpayers get the very best work force. County unions oppose.

Wilmington News Journal 7/22/06
Paramedic probe ends in NCCo
Punishment for 2 men not revealed

New Castle County officials have closed the books on their internal investigation of two New Castle County paramedics who used perceived ethnic slurs during a conversation taped on a councilman's answering machine.

But they and a paramedics union official won't say what disciplinary action has been taken against the two men.

County officials said state confidentiality laws prohibit them from discussing the results of the investigation, which was resolved Friday.

"The investigation has concluded and appropriate disciplinary action has been taken," county administration spokeswoman Christy Gleason said. "No one has been terminated as a result of this matter."

Ken Dunn, union president of the Emergency Services Workers of New Castle County, also declined to comment Friday, saying it was a personnel matter.

The two men were placed on paid leave June 14 after Councilman Jea P. Street called for an investigation into the conversation, which was inadvertently recorded when one of the men left a message for Street and believed he had hung up the phone.

The men, one of whom is a lieutenant and recruiter for the paramedic force, were discussing Street's comments in a News Journal article about minority recruitment of paramedics. The men said minorities "culturally" don't like paramedic work and compared recruitment to the hiring of Italians for certain kinds of jobs.

The investigation concluded several days later, but the county did not release details of the disciplinary process or any appeals the men may have pursued.

Gleason said the men were no longer on paid leave, although she would not say whether they have resumed their duties.

Street said Friday he was not told by administration leaders what punishment, if any, the men received.

"I don't want to come close to crossing the line [of confidentiality], so I have not asked for the information and I do not intend to ask," he said.

Street said he never called for termination of the two paramedics because he did not believe firing them would solve anything.

"However, I'm not sure at this point whether that was grave error on my part," Street said. "Because I was hoping that if I was looking toward leniency, that olive branch would be extended back and as a department they would stop resisting the obvious need to be inclusive."

Street was referring to the latest controversy over the position of assistant chief of the paramedic force, a job that requires at least five years of experience as a lieutenant and state certification.

County Executive Chris Coons and several council members -- including Street, Penrose Hollins, Robert Weiner and Patty Powell -- want to change the description to give the applicant the option of obtaining state certification within one year.

Advocates said the change would expand the pool of applicants by allowing out-of-state candidates to apply. It also could lead to a more diverse field of applicants. Among the 101-member force, five are minorities and 25 are women.

But some paramedics are opposed to the change, saying the job is part of the promotional track within the department.

"I'm dealing with the epitome of new millennium segregation," Street said. "I'm armed with enough information now to ask for an outside review of the hiring practices if I feel I can't resolve this from within this level of government."

Dunn said Street has painted an inaccurate picture of the department.

"We want to move forward from this incident and continue with the professionalism that we've always had," he said.

Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or abasiouny@delawareonline.com

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