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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter: He Wants to be In Charge – Of Everything (Part I)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter runs the Sheriff's Office, Courthouse Security, the County Jail. He is the number one law enforcement official in the County. In a deal thrashed out years ago in the back rooms of the County, he and the County 5 agreed on a contract where he annually gets 39% of the County budget. It is the only deal like it in Florida, and thought by many to be illegal. Not content, Sheriff Hunter is making a move on the 911 Call Center, County Mapping, and Emergency Management. He wants to be in charge of them, too.

Not Just a New Jail

While the County 5 considers funding the Sheriff's new dream jail, which eventually may cost, with interest, $50,000,000 and have County residents on the hook for decades: see As Sheriff Hunter's $25 Mil Jail Moves out of the Shadows, There Are Many Unanswered Questions

The Sheriff is making a play for a new administration building, a new crime lab, and a new maintenance garage.

Sheriff Hunter wants everything at his complex out on U.S. 90, an area not convenient to most of the folks in the County.

2009: Hunter Scared Everybody Away

In 2009 a consolidated dispatch center was in the works and on the horizon and all public agencies, City and County, would have been under one roof in one unified dispatch center.

By 2011 (see Columbia County Combined Communications At Critical Mass) the County-City agreement was on the ropes. The issue was Sheriff Hunter and governance.

At that time City Manager Johnson told the Observer: "In the true spirit of a combined communications center, there has to be a fair and consistent governance plan for all the participants and that's what's missing."

The County's attitude was "County funded and County run."

Eventually, to the betterment of no one, the City just walked away.

For years the County's 911 call center was steeped in politics, glad handing, and good ole' boy cronyism.

In 2012, Sandy Morgan was the 911 director. She couldn't stand up to decades of good ole' boy cronyism. Eventually, she left. (See: Columbia County 911, The Cover-up?)

Then the County hired Tom Brazil, who didn't have to be swayed by the legends of Columbia County. Mr. Brazil was a retired Sheriff's deputy with over 30 years of experience in law enforcement. He was hired to put 911 and the Call Center on a straight path. He did.

The Sheriff's Calls

For years it has been common knowledge and a number shared by the Sheriff that a little over 80% of the calls coming into the County run dispatch center concern the Sheriff's Office.

Nobody disputes that number, however, a closer look at the call volume reveals that the calls involve traffic stops, finding suspicious people, and after the fact calls.

The 911 Call Center is also the Sheriff's after hours and holiday answering service, with afterhours calls routed to the Call Center.

If a call comes in for a deputy, the Call Center sends an email message and sends a phone message.

911 Priority Calls

When one calls 911, it is supposed to work: it does.

If one looks at the number of 911 calls coming into the Call Center, priority one calls, which are life-fire-gotta get there right now calls, the picture looks a little different. About 35% of calls are ambulance; 25% are fire; and about 18% are for the Sheriff's office, i.e., there's a fire - a burglary in progress.

Director Brazil told the Observer, "Remember, most police work is after the fact: it's reactionary. If you look at the actual emergency situations, most of it is medical, fire, and law enforcement."

Sheriff Hunter: He can start his own dispatch

If the Sheriff wants to start his own dispatch, he can buy his own equipment, hire his own people, and start tomorrow.

There is nothing in the Florida statutes that say the County has provided the money to the Sheriff to do his own dispatch.

Columbia County is providing the service to the Sheriff for free. Additionally, the Sheriff gets 39% of the budget.

County Call Center: "Professional & Equal Service"

According to Director Brazil, the 911 Center works for the County. "We strive to provide good service to everybody equally: the public, the fire department, ambulance service, the Sheriff. We don't give anybody special priority," he said.

"Our goal is to give professional equal service. Everybody is trained. Everybody is state certified. There is ongoing training. We do continuing education."

Epilogue

This afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter will tell the County 5 why he thinks he should be in charge of the 911 Call Center, County Emergency Management Center and County Mapping.

"Who will be watching the Sheriff?"

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