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Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County News

Everybody Believes In Combined Communications. They Just Can't Do It. Here They Go Again.

Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter has had enough. "We can't keep jerking our people around."

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – In June 2009 Columbia County, Lake City, and the Sheriff signed an interlocal agreement to establish and maintain a Combined Communications Center from which all emergency communication was to be handled for law enforcement, fire and EMS. The agreement called for an activation date of October 1, 2009.

Four years later, the City and County are still at each other's throats and the Combined Communications Center concept is a bust. Last month, under the leadership of Lake City Manager, Wendell Johnson, Lake City decided to pull its fire dispatch from the Combined Center and go its own way.

A week ago on August 8th, County Commissioner Ronald Williams called a meeting between the County and the City. He chaired the meeting which wasn't noticed or recorded. No minutes were taken and the long time commissioner didn't bother to advise other commissioners or the public of the meeting. Commissioner Williams, who has a history of working to subvert the state's Sunshine Law, claimed it was a staff meeting. At last night's County Commission meeting Sheriff Hunter came to the microphone and told the commissioners, "I didn't know there was a meeting."

Sheriff Hunter spoke out

Last night there was again talk about sitting back down at the table with the City; making lists of complaints; continuing along the same path; continuing along a different path; moving the backup center into the Lake City Public Service Building; renewing the interlocal agreement; revising the interlocal agreement; working separately; working together; and things in between.

Sheriff Hunter told the Commission, "If the City wants to come back on board it needs to be a true and genuine commitment, not to buy time to finish building out their own system."

Commissioner Williams told the Sheriff that during his August 8th meeting he was speaking for himself and that law enforcement communications wasn't supposed to be brought up, but it was. "I have the right to protect my constituents," he said.

Commissioner Williams continued, "If they (Lake City) pull out, so be it. If we (Columbia County) pull out, then so be it, but lay the cards on the table and see who is serious about combined dispatch and who's not."

An obviously frustrated Sheriff Hunter told Commissioner Williams, "We already did this two years ago, commissioner."

Commissioner Williams, "Well, we're gonna to do it again Sheriff."

Sheriff Hunter, "And we've got to keep repeating this."

Over 80% of the calls that are run through the county dispatch center concern the Sheriff.

Sheriff Hunter, "We can't keep jerking our people around. At some point we need a genuine commitment from the City."

A Deadline

Commissioner DePratter called for a deadline of 10 days for the City, County and Sheriff to write down their issues and solutions. In the mean time the County and City are looking at an October 1st deadline for City Fire to pull out of the Combined Dispatch Center and go to a ring down system, with built in delays, to dispatch its own fire.

This coming Monday if the City agrees to put its complaints and solutions in writing the responses will be delivered to the 911 Dispatch Center Director on September 3.


Sheriff Hunter was not the only one who didn't attend Commissioner Williams' unnoticed meeting.

Commissioner Bucky Nash told the Commission, "If you're serious about this I think you should have joint meeting between the City Council  and the County Commission because I have no idea what went on in that room. I wasn't there. There are questions that I have."

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On August 16, 2013, JD from Lake City wrote:

As a City Resident I feel that the combined Dispatch will hurt the people that live within the city and the response time will be slower. If you have a scanner listen to it and you will hear the difference in the dispatching and communication between the City and County Dispatchers. I do not see how a ring down system would slow down the response time for transferring calls to the City Dispatch.

Why was this not a problem years ago when the City Dispatched all fire calls within the City and County. Is the county trying to fix a problem with the fire Assessment Taxes and the ISO rating to make them look good. Has anyone thought how a Combined Communications Center may affect the jobs and lives of the City Dispatchers? I guess when you have the good ole boy system in Columbia County they can do whatever they want....

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