Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Chief Kelvin Cochran returned to work on Tuesday after a month-long suspension over the content of his self-published religious book. Hours later, Mayor Kasim Reed announced that Cochran was out of a job.
“I have made a decision to separate from Atlanta Fire and Rescue Chief Kelvin Cochran, effective immediately,” Reed said in an emailed statement, adding, “his judgment and management skills were the subject of the inquiry and my decision to terminate his employment with the City of Atlanta.”
Reed also noted that “Cochran’s personal religious beliefs are not the issue” that led to his termination.
Cochran’s book, “Who Told You that You Were Naked,” called “homosexuality” and “lesbianism” a “sexual perversion” morally equivalent to “pederasty” and “bestiality.” In November, the administration suspended Cochran without pay as it probed whether the book — along with reports that it was distributed to some of the fire department’s employees — violated city policy.
At a Tuesday press conference, Reed said the termination was about the chief’s personal “judgment,” adding: “This is not about religious freedom, this is not about free speech.”
The mayor’s office opened an investigation into Cochran’s conduct after employees shared concerns over the book’s contents, city spokeswoman Anne Torres said in November. At the time, Torres said “there are a number of passages in the book that directly conflict with the city’s nondiscrimination policies.”
The city also said that the book was distributed to an undetermined number of the department’s employees.
On Tuesday, here’s how Reed explained his decision to end Cochran’s tenure as Fire Chief:
“Despite my respect for Chief Cochran’s service, I believe his actions and decision-making undermine his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse workforce. Every single employee under the Fire Chief’s command deserves the certainty that he or she is a valued member of the team and that fairness and respect guide employment decisions. His actions and his statements during the investigation and his suspension have eroded my confidence in his ability to convey that message.Chief Cochran also failed to notify me, as Mayor and Chief Executive of the City of Atlanta and his employer, of his plans to publish the book and its inflammatory content. This demonstrates an irreconcilable lapse in judgment.”
The case drew out quite a few Cochran defenders, who believed he was being targeted for his religious beliefs. Following the news of the chief’s suspension in November, several religiously conservative groups, including the Faith and Freedom Coalition and the Georgia Baptist Convention, lobbied the city to reinstate Cochran and urged followers to “stand up for biblical principles and fellow believers who are punished or marginalized for their faith.”
Red State’s Erick Erickson encouraged his followers to purchase Cochran’s book, writing that the fire chief was facing suspension for “publicly professing Christian beliefs.”
The city has pushed back against that characterization. “We suspended the Chief because he published the book without the City’s knowledge, and identifies himself as the Fire Chief for the City of Atlanta,” Torres said to The Post in a November e-mail.
Cochran first served as Atlanta’s fire chief in 2008. The next year, President Obama appointed him as the U.S. fire administrator for the United States Fire Administration. He returned to Atlanta, and his old job as the fire chief, in 2010.
“Who Told You That You Were Naked” is available in paperback on Amazon.com. (Amazon’s chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The book’s title is a line from Genesis — it’s what God says to Adam and Eve as he figures out that the first humans ate from a forbidden tree. In the book’s “about the author” section, Cochran identifies himself as the Atlanta fire chief.
The Atlanta Professional Firefighters union posted a statement supporting the mayor’s decision on Tuesday: “Atlanta Professional Firefighters Local 134 would like to commend Mayor Reed and his administration for their decision to terminate Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran,” the statement reads. “Local 134 supports LGBT rights and equality among all employees.”
The union asked the Reed administration to “improve LGBT rights by adding an LGBT liaison for the fire department.”
[This post has been updated]