The man brought in to clean up Washington, D.C.’s troubled 911 call system has resigned after making a racially insensitive remark. Howard Baker had served for less than three months as director of the District’s planned $100 million Unified Communications Center, the Washington Times reports.
Baker, in an interview with WRC-TV, apologized and made no excuses for what an “inappropriate, flippant, off-the-cuff remark” he made at a meeting last week with two subordinates. “This is probably the most stupid mistake I’ve ever made, and one that I’ll certainly regret for the rest of my life,” he said.
Washington’s new 911 call center is scheduled to open in December 2004 on the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital, which handles mental illness cases. The current center, chronically understaffed, has prompted citizen complaints and D.C. Council inquiries into long delays in 911 and 311 responses.
The Times quoted sources as saying that Baker’s “gruff style did not endear him to co-workers, and that the Oct. 20 remark was not the first time colleagues thought he had crossed the line in his comments.”
The Washington Post says that Baker, who is white in a predominantly black and Hispanic city, declined to disclose the offending words but said that they referred to 911 callers who jammed phone lines on Friday and Saturday nights. Baker said he was talking to subordinates about the number of callers who had been at bars and clubs on these nights. Their calls had prevented the 911 center from reaching a goal of answering all calls within five seconds. “It was more an expression of frustration than it was an ethnic anything,” Baker said.