FDNY should halt phone-record subpoena

Rick Markley, FR1 Editor-in-chief

There are better ways to control the communication going from a fire department to the media than seeking court permission to examine someone's phone records.

That is, of course, what FDNY is doing in an attempt to discover if Battalion Chief Rory Houton leaked two stories to the New York Post.

Both stories in question involved personnel matters, and it is understandable why FDNY leaders would not want that put up for public consumption. Whether it was with or without Chief Houton's help, those stories did get out.

When stories break that an organization believes puts it in a bad light, the best practice is usually to have a fast, honest and accurate response. It is the best way for the organization to regain control of the message and conversation taking place in the media.

The best way to prevent those stories from breaking is to first not make those mistakes; the second is to be a more trusted source for the media than an anonymous whistleblower.

Going after the chief's phone records was a strategic misstep as it keeps the stories going. In fact it creates a new, worse story for FDNY. It is also a misstep because the public is likely to view this move as vindictive and invasive.

Think about it. Which will portray the department in a worse light: one firefighter being hired without completing one fitness test or the department taking on the role of "big brother?"

It is human nature to rally behind the underdog with a just cause and a much larger opponent. It is the reason stories like that of Robin Hood or Star Wars resonate with people. The stories about the founding of the United States and many religions use a similar narrative — they can survive for centuries.

Going after Chief Houton's phone records will damage FDNY's standing within its own ranks and among the civilians it serves. A far better strategy for mitigating the effects of whistleblowers is to be a more trusted source for the media and not to give them anything to blow their whistles about.

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