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Fire Commissioner Callon opens personnel file to press

personnel file opened by Jeff Switzer
Local resident Mary Baum has requested Woodinville Fire Commissioner David Callon's personnel file and test scores from the fire district, a request which is now before a Superior Court Judge. The court will determine whether or not placing the information in the hands of the public would violate Callon's right to privacy.
   Callon supports the district's position that the release of this document could set a dangerous precedent and compromise the privacy of firefighters in the future. He said he believes the information requested by Baum, who is the former head of the Citizen's Advisory Committee recently reconfigured by the Fire Board, will be used to forward a specific agenda not in the public's best interest.
   "I believe there are some very vocal, liberal minorities that do not like the new direction of the board and consequently are working to try to demean, belittle, hurt, damage, and cost (the district) money. I think they will try to blow this way out of proportion into something it's not," Callon said.
   "We've all made mistakes, we have things in our personnel files," he said. "Employees have a right to that privacy."
   Callon voluntarily opened his personnel file to the Woodinville Weekly and said he is not afraid of the information getting out to the public, though he doesn't feel the public is served by the knowledge, and noted it "may hurt the department a bit."

David Callon Callon suspended in 1993
   According to Callon, the disciplinary action to which Baum has referred stemmed from an incident on Feb. 19, 1993, while he was on duty at Station 35 (behind Safeway near Cottage Lake). He was making minimum wage as a support firefighter while owning several apartments and running his Subway franchises, he said.
   He said his family had bought him a Swiss army knife for Christmas, and he had been requesting a "knife sash," or sheath, through the fire district chain of command for months, to no avail.
   He was on duty that night and went out to smoke around 11:30 p.m. When he came back in, he noticed that the hinges on the supply locker were installed backwards, he said.
   "When I realized the hinges were on backwards, my curiosity got the best of me and I opened it," Callon said. He then "issued" himself a sheath for his knife, valued under $5, and reassembled the hinges.
   "There's no question what I did was inappropriate," Callon said recently. "Looking back, I know it was poor judgment. It wasn't my intent to steal."
   The firefighter in charge of equipment for the station came by and Callon told him "confidentially" what he had done, noting the security problem posed by the incorrectly installed hinges. The firefighter did not ask Callon to return the sash. They played some computer games and Callon thought the issue closed, he said.
   The information then went beyond the first firefighter, however, resulting in the recommendation that Callon's employment as a part-paid volunteer be terminated. A lieutenant who did not support termination for the incident recommended instead a 30-day suspension from duty. That decision was supported by then Fire Chief Jim Davis and Deputy Fire Chief Ed Nelson.
   Callon was reprimanded on May 12, 1993, was told to respect the lock in the future, and to go through the proper channels to obtain equipment. He had no other disciplinary actions prior to the incident or following it.

Callon's current position
   Elected a fire commissioner in 1995, Callon began his term Jan. 1, 1996. His term expires December 2001. He says that serving on the board is his way of contributing to the community, though he will probably not seek re-election.
   Baum maintains that opening the personnel file is important to the public. "My understanding is that there is information in that file that has significant bearing on actions being taken by the fire district," said Baum said. "If Dave was not a commissioner, these would not be issues; however, I feel it is very important we get all of the details of what is happening and why."
   Baum would not indicate the source of her "understanding" of the file's information.
   About Callon's test scores, she said, "There could be information in there that is very pertinent to what is happening. We seem to have had a significant change in policies, procedures, and all types of things, and I think the answers lie in those files," she said. "It's not a little personal vendetta going back and forth. It is definitely fire district business."
   Callon said the incident taught him to "do what's right and what you know in your heart is right." He said there's no question he's going to make more mistakes in life: He's made mistakes as a father and as a business owner, he said.
   "I hope I learn and grow from them. I don't trust somebody that doesn't make a mistake. Hopefully they'll be few and far between. It was a screw-up; I should have done better."
   Callon cited his involvement as a youth coach, as a husband and father and in his church as evidence of his character. "They know I'm an honest, forthright person," he said.
   Callon agrees with the fire district's attorney that the release of his file to anyone who requests it would be a dangerous precedent. Baum, on the other hand, believes the records will show something.
   "I'm certainly looking at why we have so many changes, this turn-off to the public. It was one thing when we were allowed input and could ask questions and get some answers. I think we've lost sight of the fact that each of these people were elected to serve us," Baum said."If nothing's going on, great, tell me, but it doesn't add up," she said.
   "I agree it is a privacy issue, but the minute David Callon decided to run for a public office, and with the incidents which have occurred, I think the public has a right to know. Ask the Clintons--[the president] gave up his right to privacy when he ran for public office." Baum says she plans to argue her case on Dec. 16, when the judge may render an opinion on the matter.
   Callon has indicated he will not be attending the court hearing. The fire district's regularly scheduled meeting will take place that evening.