This week, Chief William Garrett stepped down after just one year on the job. His replacement is the fifth leader of the Winchester Fire and Rescue Department in just three years. The last time the department was fully staffed was for 28 days in January 2017. If you have an emergency, it is likely help will arrive in the form of a truck with a single firefighter, the driver. (The recommended minimum for emergency response personnel is three.) These problems and many others are outlined in a 192-page report on Fire and Rescue presented to City Council in April.
This situation is not an internal personnel matter. It is a public safety crisis. It is a failure of city leadership. Living in Winchester should not pose a risk to self and property because of the years-long neglect of Fire and Rescue.
If you have had the impression that City Hall has not been transparent about this, it is by design. When firefighters spoke at council meetings, polite tone and civility seemed to be more of a priority for the mayor than the literal safety of our city.
It is not polite to ignore firefighters when they have been warning the city about this public safety crisis for years. It is not polite to imply the fire chief is to blame for systemic failures on the part of the city. It is not polite to raise taxes without funding a functional Fire and Rescue Department. It is not polite to withhold honest, direct information about such a critical issue.
Our city’s new bylaws, which the mayor named as one of his major accomplishments in an April 25 Star article, will result in even less transparency. In addition to codifying the kind of superficial courteousness that amounts to a tone-check in the face of urgent matters. These bylaws encourage members of council to avoid “speaking negatively about the city,” “project a positive image for the city government” at all times, filter citizen communications through the city manager, and, most troubling, “ensure that information concerning the property, government or affairs of the city is held confidential and disclosed only with proper legal authorization.”
We should not be left to speculate about matters of critical importance. “It’s a personnel matter” has become an all too frequent substitute for accountability to us, the people who finance key services and depend on them for our safety, our children’s education, and our quality of life.
I am running for mayor to bring transparency, accountability, and engagement back to City Hall.
Winchester is not just a tourist destination. It is our hometown. Across all four wards, we deserve local government that works for us and with us, not instead of us or away from us. We deserve a government that respects our resources and values our voice. Together, we can make that happen.