Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Sheriff Hunter, Com Nash & Williams Ignore Facts, Want to Breakup Combined County Dispatch - Pt I

 Left to right: Commissioners Ronald Williams, Rusty DePratter, Sylvester "Bucky" Nash, Chairman Tim Murphy, Everett Phillips

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Thursday afternoon's 911 Combined Communications Center workshop/special meeting saw the County's Combined Communications Center on the chopping block. After an hour of back and forth, mostly with Sheriff Hunter complaining, a seemingly exasperated Commissioner DePratter leaned in to his microphone and addressed the Sheriff: "Are you willin' to fix what we have, or are you gonna' break it up? It's a yes or no question. Then I'll know where I wanna' go."

The path to Commissioner DePratter's question and remark to Sheriff Hunter was a telling question. Was Sheriff Hunter more concerned about his ego, the man who wanted to be in control of 'everything', or the welfare of Columbia County, its residents, and those passing through?

In Part I we will look at the first half of what was originally scheduled to be a workshop, but was changed at the last minute to a special meeting by the whim of County Commission Chairman Tim Murphy.

Chairman Murphy Gavels the Meeting to Order

At 3:30 pm, while the County's working families were working, Chairman Murphy gaveled the meeting to order and invited 911 Combined Communications Director Tom Brazil to the microphone.

Mr. Brazil's presentation was quick and without finger pointing.

See: Sheriff Hunter: He Wants To Bust Up the Combined 911 Call Center (Part III) 

Mr. Brazil was concerned about addressing the Sheriff's previously stated concerns about the security of the FNCIC system.

Mr. Brazil told The 5, "One of the suggestions [at the last workshop] was putting up a wall [between the Sheriff's dispatchers and the Combined Communications dispatchers]... The problem with this scenario is I don't know how we are going to be able to address the Sheriff's concern about FNCIC security if we work in the same system; in the same building; in the same place..., if we're using the same CAD..., and the same server..."

Mr. Brazil concluded, "Maybe we can, but I just don't see how it's going to happen."

Mr. Brazil briefly discussed the costs of the Sheriff leaving the combined dispatch and said that the majority of the cost will be in duplicating computer equipment and programs.

Mr. Brazil asked if there were any questions from The 5. There were none.

Chairman Murphy thanked Mr. Brazil and invited Sheriff Hunter to the microphone.

Columbia County Sheriff, Mark Hunter

Sheriff Hunter thanked The 5 for inviting him to the workshop and said it was "important to continue the conversation."

Sheriff Hunter went over his version of the history of the 911 combined communications call center.

More information regarding the history of the Combined Call Center can be found in this article: 911 goes down; County covers up

While the Sheriff mentioned the 2007 Kimball Report, a devastating study of the County's 911 communications, he left out that by 2010 the City was complaining of protocol and governance issues and nobody at the City wanted to work with him, the same issues that Sheriff Hunter is complaining about today, only this time it is some of the folks in Columbia County that he says do not want to work with him.

In 2010, when the City wanted a jointly funded study by another world class consultant Winbourne & Costas to look into the governance issues, Columbia County took off to the hills and Lake City went its own way.

Sheriff Hunter on the Present Operation of the Call Center
He Didn't Know How Calls Were Taken

Sheriff Hunter explained how calls were presently handled at the call center. He said, "You've got one call taking position out there, but whenever they start gettin' overwhelmed, the other dispatchers can't take calls. Is that correct Mr. Brazil?"

Mr. Brazil answered, "No sir."

Sheriff Hunter followed up, "You're saying that you only have one call taker?"

Mr. Brazil responded, "We don't have specific call takers. Everybody takes 911 calls."

Sheriff Hunter:  "OK. Everyone takes 911 calls."

Mr. Brazil:  "Generally, the calls for 911 are taken on the fire-EMS side, because the Sheriff's Office side is dealing with that [Sheriff calls] and they are usually not quite as busy on the fire and EMS side."

At an earlier meeting, Sheriff Hunter criticized the County 5 for touring the Call Center. If he had taken the tour and sat down with Director Brazil, or even a call taker, he may have become familiar with the call taking protocols at the Center.

The Sheriff Makes a List

The Sheriff told The 5, "In our last meeting you all asked me to bring out what the problems and our issues are: the communication between our agencies."

The Sheriff's perceived problems were de minimis and did not pose an eminent danger to anybody.

Click here to enlarge.

Sheriff Hunter disagreed with Mr. Brazil's earlier pointing out the number of Priority 1 calls coming into the call center.

The Sheriff said, "A call is a call."

A Priority 1 or Code 1 call is an emergency call. That is not the same as someone who lost their cat.

Somebody calling 911 after a family member just had a heart attack might disagree with the Sheriff's assessment of "A call is a call."

The Sheriff said the Call Center shouldn't "be about a them and us," yet, he wants to build a wall separating his dispatchers from the rest of the Center.

The Sheriff had a gripe about everything, also taking issue with the way the County budgeted radio repair. "We don't receive any of those moneys," he said.

The Sheriff's Solution
A Time Line for the Breakup

Sheriff Hunter continued, "What I'm proposing is that the commission assign a working group of the Sheriff, the County Manager and one commissioner and discuss a time line for the transition. Let's do this right."

Sheriff Hunter wanted to break up the Combined Communications Center and put a backup call center somewhere on his property, preferably when the new jail is built.

Sheriff Hunter said he wanted real dialogue "on how we can do this."

Possibly aware that the only people in favor of breaking up the Combined Communications Center was the Sheriff, Commissioners Nash and Williams, Sheriff Hunter concluded, "And if we can't, then let's come up with a solution on funding the dispatch for the positions they need for the call takers and setting it up in a different way and get an agreement so that we all feel that we are a part of this."

Brief Comments

Commissioner Phillips wanted to know why the Sheriff hadn't been talking to anyone after the last meeting. He thought the Sheriff should have been.

Commissioner Williams said he supported the Sheriff 100% in his quest to set up his own dispatch.

County Manager Ben Scott discussed financing dispatch. He said he calculated how much it would cost to fund the county dispatch, not the Sheriff's proposed new dispatch.

Commissioner Nash weighed it, "I'm pretty sure the Board is for letting you take your dispatchers and everything else. When I talked to Mr. Foreman, you have the right to do that."

Mr. Foreman did not comment.

A Lot of Calls

Mr. Brazil explained that all calls entered into the system are not necessarily dispatched. 

He then explained how call centers are judged. He told The 5, "I pulled some numbers. Call centers around the country are judged on how long it takes to answer the call. It should be within the first ten seconds. In 2015 we answered 197,927 calls: 97% within the first 10 seconds. In 2016 we answered 187,376 calls: 97% within the first 10 seconds. In 2017 we answered 178,128 calls: 98% within the first 10 seconds."

Mr. Brazil added, "So far this year 98% of calls have been answered within the first 10 seconds. As a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), that's what we are being judged on."

Mr. Brazil explained staffing, "We can't staff for what is. We have to staff for what might happen in ready alert status. You have to staff for the worst case scenario."

After an observation regarding the inadequate pay of the Center's call takers, Mr. Nash said he thought Mr. Brazil and Sheriff Hunter were going to come back to the Board with a plan.

Mr. Brazil explained, "I don't have a plan yet, because I'm not sure what we're gonna' do."

Mr. Brazil Asked the Sheriff to Review the Center's Policies

Mr. Brazil advised the County 5, "After our first workshop, [Jan. 18, 2018] I sent our Operational Policy Manual, Our Administrative Policy Manual, and our Law Enforcement Tactical Dispatching Manual to the Sheriff's Office. 'Please review em'. Please let me know any changes you want to make for 2018.'"

Mr. Brazil continued, "I got four sentences back [from the Sheriff's Office] to change all these policies. (Holds up the policy binders). We keep talking about all these problems out at dispatch. Yes, we've had some people do some dumb things, personnel issues that we've addressed. He's had personnel do dumb things, too. But, policy decisions -- apparently we've got the right policies in place; apparently we're doing the right thing with only four recommended changes."

Commissioner Nash: Ignores Comments
"I will help with the breakup of the call center"

Commissioner Nash ignored all the comments and recommended that the County finance the breakup of the call center for a year to see how it works out.

Com. Nash volunteered to help with the breakup of the call center. "I will help you and you [Hunter and Brazil]. I don't think Ben [County Manager Ben Scott] needs to be in there."

Coming in Part II: Com DePratter's question turns the ship around, for now

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