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Problem with police commissioner is that he tends to fire good people

SO WAS IT a sexist remark?

Well, it most certainly was. When Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark held an impromptu, late-night news conference last Wednesday after he had been cleared of domestic abuse allegations, he said something he probably didn't want or mean to say.

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"I'd like to say that I'm sorry to the great city of Baltimore and to the hardworking men of the department that a situation like this distracted them," Clark said.

I added those italics myself, to illustrate what the issue is here. Thanking the men and not the women is definitely a sexist remark. But does that make Clark a sexist or did he just make a slip of the tongue?

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Ragina Averella, the former public information officer for the Baltimore Police Department, wouldn't comment on whether or not Clark is a sexist. She just knows how the commissioner treated her before he had her demoted and replaced - with a man, by the way.

"There were several staff meetings in which he ignored me," Averella said. "At a City Council hearing last year, Clark introduced the members of his command staff. I was sitting next to Chief Edward Jackson, who was sitting next to Clark. He didn't even mention me. I asked him afterward why he didn't mention me as part of his command staff and he said I wasn't there."

Averella, who was the public information officer - the first and only woman to hold the position - during most of former Commissioner Edward T. Norris' tenure and part of Clark's, worked briefly for Norris after he became head of the Maryland State Police. She left that job to return to the Baltimore Police Department at the reduced rank of police agent, but Clark had her fired and launched an internal affairs investigation against Jackson and Col. Stanford Franklin for the "improper" rehiring and supervising of Averella. A few weeks after the investigation started, Clark fired Franklin in an unrelated matter.

Franklin said he remembered the City Council meeting when Clark ignored Averella, and heard Clark's remark about the "men of the department" on the news.

"I just don't think he has value for women in the workplace," Stanford said. "In his day-to-day interactions with Ragina Averella, there was a lack of respect for her. Everybody that's worked with Ragina Averella - in and out of the department - had nothing but respect for her. Clark is the only one I've heard speak negatively about her."

Clark deferred comment to Matt Jablow, Averella's replacement as the department's director of public affairs. Jablow accused Averella and Franklin of having "axes to grind" against Clark and said his boss is guilty of nothing more than a slip of the lip.

"He just misspoke," Jablow said. "He was trying to say 'members' and it came out 'men.' Thirty seconds later in the interview, he referred to 'men and women.'"

Clark also referred to "men and women" in a June 3 memo to all department members. And, in all fairness, did the same thing again in an interview with WJZ's Richard Sher that aired yesterday morning.

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"He always says 'men and women,'" Jablow said. As for Averella's assertion that Clark didn't introduce her as part of his command staff, Jablow said Clark doesn't introduce him that way either.

Chief Zeinab Rabold, the head of the department's Internal Affairs Division, disputed the notion that Clark is a sexist.

"I would tend to disagree with anyone who calls him a sexist," Rabold said. "I haven't been treated any differently because of my gender, and I'm the highest-ranking woman in the department."

Jablow implied that, under Clark, the number of women in high-ranking positions just might grow. Some 23 percent of the 2002 recruits for the department were, according to Jablow, women. That figure rose to 25 percent in 2003, Clark's first year.

"This man is no sexist," Jablow said, while rattling off a list of seven departmental positions headed by women.

Clark - through Jablow - has said that he dismissed Franklin because the department "decided to go in a different direction," and in Averella's case, the police commissioner said that he preferred to have a journalism professional as the department's spokesman.

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It's unlikely that Clark, Franklin and Averella will even "agree to disagree" on whether the commissioner is a sexist. What is clear is that the black politicians who flocked to Clark's support when the domestic violence investigation started and accused the Fraternal Order of Police of wanting to get rid of Clark because he's black would never have let Norris or Thomas C. Frazier - the white commissioner under Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke - get away with a line about "the hardworking men of the department."

Nor would they have ignored in the cases of Norris and Frazier what they've clearly ignored in the case of Clark: sexist or not, our current commissioner has given the boot to some excellent people.

Averella and Franklin, both African-Americans, are two of them. But it's been men and women, blacks and whites alike.

The real knock against Clark is not that he's sexist. It's his propensity for firing quality people.


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