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Combined Communications: It Was Clear, Sheriff Hunter Was Interested in Power (Part IV)


911 Director Brazil (left) makes a point. For him it wasn't about the power, it was about the County Combined Dispatch Center and the citizens.

Columbia County, FL – The conversation continued at the Thursday workshop, convened specifically for Sheriff Hunter in his quest to cleave the 911 Combined County Dispatch Center and seal off and hire his own dispatchers.

At the beginning of the workshop Chairman Murphy asked for enlightenment.

Forty minutes into the meeting Sheriff Hunter announced that he wants to split up the staff at the Call Center – build a wall – walling off his people and equipment from the rest of the Call Center and have them work for him and his supervisor, rather than the 911 Call Center Director. The Sheriff's call takers would not be taking 911 calls.

Commissioner DePratter: This would cause more contention

Commissioner DePratter, the only member of the County 5 that was willing to take on the Sheriff, said, "You said when you put a manager on your side there is that contention going on. You've got 'this is us - this is them.' You've got contention even worse, Sheriff."

Sheriff Hunter responded, "Here's the thing. Those folks will be dispatching the law enforcement side and they will be doing their thing... This is a leadership issue to be quite frank with ya', as far as them workin' together... It's not a grab all. If you were in my position Commissioner and you had oversight or you had responsibility and any liability for that, you would be doing the same thing."

Com. DePratter shot back, "We are in that position. This board is responsible for 911."

Sheriff Hunter said, "Correct."

Com. DePratter, "You're tellin' us we don't have the same problem. We do. This board is responsible for 911... You said somethin' a while ago. You said your dispatchers would be asked to do something different than ours. What is that?"

The Blue Line

Sheriff Hunter spoke about a bond between his watch commander and his people. "They work together and they take care of one another," he said.

Sheriff Hunter explained that the dispatchers that work for the Call Center presently "work with us -- not for us." 911 Director Brazil explained a recent incident where a dispatcher asked a deputy to do something. There was disagreement. A call went out over the radio; the Sheriff's people took command of the incident.


Commissioners Phillips (left) and Nash listen to the Sheriff. Nash had made up his mind to break up the Combined Communications Center. Phillips didn't say one word at the meeting.

Commissioner Nash: "There is a power struggle"

Commissioner Nash weighed in: "If I'm the Sheriff, I want total control... It will put the burden on the Sheriff." Com. Nash explained that there is animosity between 911 and the Sheriff's Office. "My thing is, I would suggest, you take your dispatchers from now till October 1, put up your wall."

Com. Nash did not bring out that everywhere and every time Sheriff Hunter interacts with others (the City, 911, etc) he can't get along unless he gets his own way.

45 Minutes into the Meeting 911 Combined Communications Director Tom Brazil Finally Gets a Word

Director Brazil:  "Commissioner, I don't think the way to put it is power. It's not my power. Florida statute: the Sheriff is absolutely correct. He is responsible and liable for the FNIC computer and the CJIS information in it. You, as the County Board of Commissioners, are responsible for 911 and the fiduciary agent for all the 911 funds received from telephone surcharge, grant funds and all that. You also have the responsibility to appoint a 911 coordinator. There is nothing in the FL Statutes that says the County is responsible for dispatching or that the Sheriff is responsible for dispatching. The state does not address that in anyway. That is up to the individual counties and agencies to work out."

When Sheriff Hunter could not come up with a cogent response regarding why the Sheriff and the County could not work out their differences Commissioner Nash came to Hunter's rescue: "You guys (Hunter and Brazil) are in the weeds."

Director Brazil followed up: "With this scenario, if we do have a wall. He has his dispatchers that work for him. We have our dispatchers that work for us, we're going to need some kind of continuity, as far as salary and benefits, because if his people are making way more than our people, or our people are making way more than his people, it's going to cause a lot of contention."

Hunter: Already Planning for the Breakup

Sheriff Hunter agreed with Dir. Brazil about the salary issue. Sheriff Hunter explained that he has already begun talking with the County's main IT guy, Todd Manning, "about how we can separate the system with the servers."

County Manager Ben Scott weighed in saying he thought the problem was a budgetary one.

Mr. Scott said, "In having a Combined Communications Center, we were able to achieve some efficiencies by having extra people in the room; not having to call in someone for over time."

The Sheriff said he would need 17 positions if the Call Center broke up.

Director Brazil explained staffing if the Sheriff bolts. He said if the Sheriff builds a wall at the Call Center, "The Sheriff's dispatchers will not get the 911 calls."

Com. DePratter: "I see us fixin' our problems"

Commissioner DePratter said, "I don't see no reason to break it apart. I see us fixin' our problems. We're gonna' spend a bunch of money that we don't need to."

Director Brazil added that if the system breaks up, "One of the issues is ... if we split this, we are no longer going to train our people to take law enforcement calls."

Director Brazil added, "I have done in five years everything, as far as dispatch, the Sheriff has asked me to do... We have a very comprehensive procedure manual of what to do when things break. We are the after-hours answering service; we are the holiday weekend answering service; we take messages for deputies; everything that I've been asked to do, we've done."

Com. DePratter added, "We're operating a center today that is working and when we pull our money out with those people it is going to affect the Center."

Sheriff Hunter jumped in, "Did you hear what you just said commissioner, 'Our Center.'"

Com. DePratter: "You made it our center. Why aren't those people out there today trained the way you want them trained? That's where we should go. We shouldn't be dividing the County... We should be training them all to do the job they need to do. That's where we should be working together. That's a simple easy fix."

Sheriff Hunter was not looking for a solution: "It sounds easy, but I've been here nine years and we ain't got it fixed."

The Sheriff kept interrupting Mr. DePratter. Finally, the Sheriff blamed the City for the City-County Combined Call Center failure.

Hunter went on blaming the new city manager, the city attorney, the fire department, everybody he could think of, except himself.

Com. DePratter jumped in: "Sheriff, let's me and you start over. I just want to fix it. I don't want to blame the Fire Department, blame the Commissioners, or blame the Sheriff."

Sheriff Hunter said, "I'm not." Again, the Sheriff would not let DePratter speak and over talked him. "I'm just sayin' we got a situation."

DePratter Would Not Let Sheriff Hunter Over Power Him

Com. DePratter continued, "Let's just see where we're at and make it work. You're gonna' want how much money? $700,000? And I'm willin' to give you a hundred. So, we're at an impasse. The County has a system providing the Sheriff's Office, Fire and EMS, with dispatch."

The Sheriff interrupted again: "That's what it takes to operate the Sheriff's side of it. It ain't my fault... (More interrupting by the Sheriff) Is it right for the County to keep the law enforcement dispatch side of it?"

Com. DePratter asked, "Why don't we implement your standards in that building? We can only help everybody out there."

Sheriff Hunter was getting testy: "Because it hasn't happened Commissioner. That's what this whole point's about."

Com. DePratter responded, "So we're just going to throw it away and bust it up? ... I've learned a lot. I see more of a conflict of personalities... We could work this out -- maybe -- and save the taxpayers money. That's what I see."

County Manager Ben Scott

Mr. Scott said, "The Sheriff says this hasn't worked for nine years. I asked numerous times -- tell us what you want to do. We'll do it. Give us something in writing. What do you want us to do to fix it? It hasn't happened... I don't have anything."

Chairman Murphy weighed in, "Ultimately, the taxpayer is going to be the one that suffers... In the time of a catastrophe we're The 5 that's goin' to catch the brunt, because we didn't plan for this."

Sheriff Hunter: Can he get along?

Sheriff Hunter claims "good faith":  "I came in good faith that we would be a partner in this. I think Nash hit it on the head. There's personality involved in this. And you've always had the bone of contention between the firefighters and law enforcement and you know -- hurt feelin's and the Sheriff said this about them -- the firefighters said this about that one."

Sheriff Hunter announced that he doesn't feel welcome at the meetings at the Call Center. The record shows that he almost never attends the meetings.

Sheriff Hunter told The 5, "There's a lot of things that you guys don't see that we get left out of the picture."


The Sherriff's slide showing where his proposed wall would be was unreadable from the audience. Kevin Kirby (seated) struggles to read it. Hunter also had issues with Public Works.

DePratter Wants a List

Com. DePratter and the rest of The 5 had been listening to Sheriff Hunter complain for almost an hour and a half.

Com. DePratter told the Sheriff, "Sheriff, I'd like to see that list of stuff that you came up with."

Sheriff Hunter asked, "What list?"

Com. DePratter answered, "You just called it all off."

Sheriff Hunter then complained about road projects saying that road projects take priority in the county, not his stuff.

Com DePratter responded, "Let's be candid, you've got a problem with the road department... Here it is. You're wantin' me to fix things that I know nothing about. How am I going to do that? How do we do that? ... I'm askin' you, 'Why don't we just talk about it a little more?' We can try to put together a plan to save it. If we can't save it, then we'll go in that direction. With you, everything we do has got to be -- stop -- divide -- new. At some point this county can't afford it."

Director Brazil told The 5, "You can't have two masters," adding, "Law enforcement is a lot more gray. I spent 30 years, five sheriffs and a sheriff's office. It's a little bit different."

Dir. Brazil: "We've Done Everything That's Been Asked of Us"

Director Brazil: "We've had these 911 meetings. We've had them since I've been here. If we are doing something wrong in dispatch; that there is something we want done -- we have done everything that has been asked of us. I don't know specifically what different things we need to do because it has not been brought to me to do. Everything we've had asked of us, we've done. Other than being in charge and being able to tell people what to do, without having to come through me, I don't understand what else we can do. It's not personalities. It's not anything. Me and the Sheriff get along just fine. That's kind of where I'm at."

Sheriff Hunter:  "It's About Having Control"

Sheriff Hunter responded, "He points out it's about having the control and bein' able to direct people. That's pretty much it."

Fire Chief Jeff Crawford made a brief appearance at the microphone. Sheriff Hunter wouldn't relinquish the podium and Chief Crawford was also pushed off to the side. As Crawford tried to explain the requirements of the fire department, Hunter also interrupted him.

When Chief Crawford finished Sheriff Hunter told the County 5, "There is just a divide out there guys. Let's just call it the way it is."

Epilogue

The workshop began with Chairman Murphy asking the Sheriff "to enlighten us."

After two hours of inquiry it was clear. Sheriff Hunter did not appear before the County 5 with a cogent argument for the breakup of the County Combined Communications Center.

Sheriff Hunter was interested in power. His power.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On January 23, 2018, former Sheriff candidate Rudolph Davis wrote:

This is what happens when you give a power hungry sheriff a second term in office, he wants all the power in everything he is involved in, but even if they give his dispatch, he will still have to work with others and shoulder some liabilities. The board needs to stand up to the sheriff and save the citizens money.

 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

 
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