NORWALK, Conn. – A letter released Monday by a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) officer was disavowed Tuesday by the organization’s president.
The letter calling for the resignation of Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy was not authorized, NAACP Norwalk branch President Darnell Crosland said. NAACP First Vice President Andre Williams, who released the letter, disagreed and said it was discussed at an NAACP executive board meeting and authorized.
On Monday, Williams said Mayor Harry Rilling had promised before the election to fire McCarthy, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord and then-Personnel Director James Haselkamp. Rilling said Tuesday evening that wasn’t true.
“There was never any promises or comments made like that,” Rilling said. “If I ever talked about any department heads before the primary and before the election and even after, I just said there are people who need to be held accountable and they’re going to be on my radar and I’m going to make sure they’re accountable or else they need to start looking elsewhere. That’s all I’ve ever said. I never mentioned any names.”
Crosland said he would release a written statement.
“I called the state-wide president and I spoke to him,” Crosland said. “Only the president of the branch speaks. That’s just the rule.”
Williams’ letter is attached below. NancyOnNorwalk held it back to give McCarthy a chance to respond. He has not answered two emails.
The letter accuses McCarthy of racism.
“We, the Norwalk Branch of the NAACP, believe Denis McCarthy’s lack of leadership, prejudicial treatment of, and disrespect shown towards black firefighters past and present are the major reasons recruitment efforts to bolster the number of black candidates for the Fire Department have failed,” the letter states.
The letter is “a pronouncement that is long overdue,” the letter states. It goes on to detail a history of alleged racism beginning in 2005 when, the letter states, McCarthy spearheaded a campaign to suspend, then fire, a black firefighter who was accused of a crime. The charges were later dropped, the letter states.
It recounts a 2006 video which allegedly caught racist remarks made by a firefighter and accuses McCarthy of lying. It goes on to say that, in 2012, a white firefighter was charged with a federal crime and suspended for 30 days, referring to James Lyons. In March 2014, a white firefighter was arrested after stealing fire department equipment, it states, referring to Jason Penna, who was dismissed from the department.
“Why do blacks get suspended indefinitely without pay while whites get placed on paid leave under Chief McCarthy’s watch?” the letter asks.
It goes on to recount recent history.
“Recently Mayor Rilling met with the president and first vice president of the NAACP to discuss the dwindling number of African Americans in the fire department. The mayor had the great idea, backed by the NAACP, of acquiring accredited/certified firefighter candidates, something McCarthy is unwilling to do.”
The letter concludes, “We believe it would be in the best interest of our great city and fine Fire Department if you resign your position of Fire Chief to restore integrity and renew morale and we, as an organization and vital component of this city, will strongly oppose any renewal of your contract or extension of service of any kind you may seek from the current administration.”
Williams is a former firefighter who was dismissed in 2009 after failing to complete required rehabilitation after a series of incidents.
He said he had been asked to write the letter because he was aware of things that happened in the firehouse. The situation will be discussed Thursday at an NAACP executive board meeting, he said, promising to bring the minutes of the earlier meeting in which he said the letter was discussed.
“(McCarthy) has done nothing for us,” Williams said. “I have documentation to back up everything I have said about him since day one. … Anything I say about Mr. McCarthy I will put my name to it.”
McCarthy has “no respect for death of a family member,” as he has never attended a funeral for a black firefighter’s family member, although he is “front and center” at funerals for white firefighters and their families, Williams said. McCarthy didn’t know the names of the two black fire department chaplains when asked, Williams said.
These are charges made to NancyOnNorwalk a year ago by an African American firefighter who asked to remain anonymous.
Rilling expressed his unhappiness about the letter, and said he never listed any names of department heads that might be fired or not renewed. He said he would not discuss any city employee’s job status in public. “It’s just not something I’m going to do.” Rilling did say he has told people that he would be watching and assessing his department heads, that some were on his radar and had been operating with autonomy.
Rilling said he spoke with the department heads named by Williams.
“I’ve had a conversation with both of them (Alvord and McCarthy), and I told them the letter was not authorized by the NAACP, and it was filled with inaccuracies.”
Rilling confirmed the recent meeting with McCarthy and NAACP leaders including Williams and Darnel Crosland, the group’s president. “We discussed different ways to increase the minority hiring pool,” he said, including finding candidates that are already certified firefighters from other jurisdictions.
“This was something that I proposed, finding firefighters already certified, see if they are interested in coming to Norwalk,” he said. “We do this on the Police Department.”
He said it was also suggested by someone else that they might try to get volunteers from Rowayton who would like to be fulltime firefighters.”