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Lake City News

911 Combined Communication Center stays
City Council supports interlocal agreement

Councilman George WardLast night was an interesting night in Lake City, City Hall, where facts are presented, intelligent conversation takes place, residents are treated with respect and the public can see their public servants, in a "market place of ideas," make decisions that affect their welfare. Common sense and the rule of law prevailed when Councilman George Ward said, "We should continue the efforts as defined under the Interlocal Agreement... somehow or other, we are going to have to make this work, because it's for the common good of everybody."

At the September 14th joint City/County meeting and for the previous year since the City and the County agreed to a Combined Call Center, the interlocal agreement, the contract, which was to bring all the dispatch for the public service agencies together, was ignored. Meetings and memos between the City and the County did nothing to smooth the waters.

Last night, after weeks of memos and e mails, the City made its position clear. City Manager Wendell Johnson explained his October 5th memo to the County this way: "The purpose of the memo was to reestablish the City's position in our relationship with Columbia County and the combined communications process. The County voted to switchover services to the new equipment on Nov. 7th... it seemed it was going to happen no matter what the City's views were. The City's commitment that night [Sept 14] was to move forward as a participant."

City Manager Johnson continued: "At that time the City did not feel confident in switching over because there were a lot of unanswered questions and issues that were a concern to us."

Someone decided to move the backup dispatch center from the LCPD to the County Jail - cost $6,000 or $86,000

Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter
Sheriff Mark Hunter signed the ILA and has ignored it along with everyone else. During the Sept 14 joint City/County meeting, the Sheriff didn't say one word about moving the backup call center.

After the conclusion of the October 7th County Commission meeting and after it was learned that the combined communications back up was moving from the LCPD to the County Jail, your reporter asked Sheriff Hunter how much it was going to cost to move the backup center to the County Jail, instead of having it at the LCPD. Sheriff Hunter said the only cost was $6,000 for a server.

Last night in City Hall, CM Johnson explained another reason for his October 5th memo: "There was a decision made a couple - three weeks ago - after the joint meeting, whereby some backup communications equipment proposed for installation in the Lake City Public safety building. It came to about $86,000... There was a decision made - I had no knowledge of who made it - when it was made -- that equipment was now going into the County jail... When I saw that, I decided it was best to send a memo to the Council to indicate the scenario as I see it."

City Manager explains the County Manager's memo – no collaboration

City Manager Wendell JohnsonCM Johnson: "It was an interesting document to say the least. Mr. Williams started off by saying he was surprised about my memo. He went on to indicate some disagreements and what he referred to as misrepresentation of the truth in my memos... I don't think there are any misrepresentations in there. I believe that all the comments I made are validated by documents from the beginning of the process."

Again, CM Johnson stressed the importance of continuing with "a combined communications effort."

Mayor Witt told the Council: "We need to have Mr. Johnson and the Chief satisfied that they are comfortable with this transfer."

Councilman Jake Hill asked about the communications equipment that was installed in the County Jail: "The equipment that they're going to put in the jail. Is that city equipment?"

CM Johnson:

It was purchased by grant funding that the County applied for a year or so ago. It was a state grant. Mr. Williams had sent a notice over to the City to indicate that equipment was paid for by grant funds and that we subsequently discussed it in the user group meeting.  We came to a memorandum of understanding that was accepted by all parties and everything was being arranged for the installation of the equipment. [The equipment was to be installed in the Lake City Police Department].

Subsequently the decision was made by someone - Mr. Williams told me at a Monday morning meeting last week - that the user group made that decision.  But I have no evidence to show that. If they did, it was in the absence of City representatives.

That was kind of a surprise. I think that if you look at it logically, the Lake City Public Safety Building is a hardened building and it would be the most suitable location for the backup for the Combined Communications Center. Someone has chosen that it is going to be installed at the County Jail... that's another indicator that there's no collaboration between the parties to make these decisions.

Councilwoman Melinda Moses
Councilwoman Moses (file photo)

Councilwoman Moses asked about staying the course: "You're saying that we will continue going to those weekly meetings until we have the governance that we need?"

"I don't know who's making the rules"

CM Johnson: "Look at the concept of combined communications... Where you have truly combined participants, each bringing something to the table. The City's going to be bringing $300,000 a year to the table for the next eight years. We're going to have our police officers relying on the services that are going to come from this center."

CM Johnson continued: "An effort like this requires everybody to just step up and work toward a common goal.  That's what I'm asking the Council to do tonight. But it has to be done with an understanding that all the stakeholders know what the rules of the game are. At this point, I don't know what the rules are.  I don't know who's making the rules."

Councilman Jake Hill
Councilman Jake HIll

Councilman Hill asked about the time frame.

CM Johnson:

It all depends on the cooperation and willingness of the participants to agree to certain issues as a part of the interlocal agreement. Clearly, the interlocal agreement is going to have to be re-accomplished.

There was a comment made in Mr. Williams' letter to me that the City opted out of the interlocal agreement last October. That we asked for it to be discontinued. That's not true... My understanding is the document is still a binding document. There's just not any attention being paid to it, by the City or the County.

The interlocal agreement is going to be the foundation that both governing bodies should agree to. It is going to provide for the future relationship.

Councilman Ward  – the ILA stands

Councilman Ward: "I agree with Mr. Johnson.  We should continue the efforts as defined under the interlocal agreement... somehow or other we are going to have to make this work, because it's for the common good of everybody... I would move that we continue the combined communication effort as defined by the ILA (interlocal agreement)."

Mr. Ward's motion passed unanimously.

No one from the County Management or Government attended the City Council meeting. Business as usual for the homeless Columbia County Commission.

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

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