2009-02-19 / Front Page

BOC gives sheriff control of E-911 center

A standing-room-only crowd was in attendance at the regular meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners held Thursday, February 12, in the courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse. Most were there for the agenda item involving the decision as to whether to take the E-911 center from the public safety department and place it under the auspices of the sheriff's office. Pictured addressing the commission is Dr. Becky Barden, principal of Lincoln County High School. A standing-room-only crowd was in attendance at the regular meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners held Thursday, February 12, in the courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse. Most were there for the agenda item involving the decision as to whether to take the E-911 center from the public safety department and place it under the auspices of the sheriff's office. Pictured addressing the commission is Dr. Becky Barden, principal of Lincoln County High School. The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners voted to take the operation of the E-911 center from the Lincoln County Department of Public Safety and place it under the control of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office at the group's regular meeting held Thursday, February 12.

Commissioners Darrell Henderson and Rob Robinson voted in favor of the motion, while Commissioners Larry Collins and Cooper Cliatt stood in opposition. The tie was broken by Chairman Wade Johnson.

Prior to the vote, several

individuals addressed the standingroom only crowd, voicing support of Public Safety Director Ernie Doss as well as their opinion that the E-911 center should remain under the auspices of Doss' department.

The first to speak was Dr. Becky Barden, principal of Lincoln County High School.

In her remarks, she outlined what the public safety director does for the schools in the county.

Barden noted that Doss coordinates CPR classes for faculty, staff, and students; ensures that a rescue unit is on duty at all home football and soccer games.

Serves as a member of the Career, Technology, and Agriculture Education (CTAE) Advisory Council; assists with middle and high school physicals for sports; films home football games.

Supervises two students in conjunction with the school's youth apprenticeship program; serves as a guest speaker in healthcare science classes, while instructing students in emergency medical procedures and techniques.

Co-teaches First Responder classes; assists in developing the school safety plans for all three schools and coordinating the plans with GEMA (Georgia Emergency Management Agency); etc.

Speaking to the commissioners, Dr. Barden said, "For the safety and welfare of the people of Lincoln County, I beg you to set aside your personal agendas and do what is right for the citizens. Let us keep Ernie Doss as our public safety director."

Following the principal on the agenda was Kevin Wade, who pointed out that under Doss' direction, Lincoln County has become one of the few rural counties with an E- 911 center that is both Phase I and Phase II compliant.

He further stated that Doss' office has:

.. A very low turnover rate.

.. Passed annual audits by the GBI for GCIC (Georgia Crime Information Center) record keeping.

.. Handled thousands of requests for emergency assistance each year with well over a 99.9-percent accuracy rate.

.. Come in under budget each year that the director has managed the E- 911 center.

.. Brought EMS billing back "in house" and increased collections by over $80,000 the first year.

Wade went on to say that according to GEMA, of the 135 911 centers statewide, only 35 are operated by the local sheriff, while 80 are run by the local city or county government.

"Placing the E-911 center under the sheriff's control would add another layer of management — I don't see any cost savings," he said.

Wade was followed by Glenn Creech.

At the outset of his remarks, Creech asked Chairman Johnson about his thoughts on how Doss runs his department.

The chairman said he had no issue with the director's capabilities.

"Most of us want Ernie Doss to stay as our 911 director," stated Creech. "I implore the chairman to do the right thing and keep him because it benefits the citizens of this community. To do anything other than that is a slap in the face to the people of this county."

The last person to speak, prior to the vote, was Commissioner Larry Collins, who explained that he put the E-911 center on the agenda for the meeting. "Director Doss said that the talk in the community is starting to cause morale to deteriorate at the 911 center."

The commissioner said he has asked for justification for moving the E-911 center back to the sheriff "and the only reasons I have heard are: the initial move from the sheriff's office was a political slap in the face of Sheriff Gerald Lawson and that the sheriff and/or some of his deputies don't trust the employees of the 911 center."

Collins went on to give a brief history of the E-911 center. "Prior to September of 2005, Elaine Sexton, program administrator for GEMA's statewide 911 system, advised then EMS director Casey Broom that Lincoln County's practice of using dispatchers as jailers and/or records clerks in the sheriff's office was in violation of the Georgia Code. She also advised that the county could not use the E-911 fees to pay the salaries of dual-role employees and that the county needed to upgrade its 911 system to handle wireless calls, since we were collecting wireless 911 fees.

"In December of 2005, the board voted to create the Department of Public Safety, which would house E- 911, EMS, fire, rescue, and emergency management. The board likewise authorized the chairman to search for a public safety director. On April 13, 2006, Ernie Doss was hired as the public safety director.

"This brings us to the present," the commissioner continued. "During the first 42 days of 2009, the board of commissioners has fired the director of planning and zoning, implemented the practice of furloughing employees one day a month, limited parttime employees to a maximum of 25 hours per week, increased the amount employees pay for healthcare by $20 a month, and decided not to open the pool this year — all under the heading of 'reducing costs because revenues will not be what was projected.'

"While doing this, there is still talk of moving the E-911 center back under the leadership of Sheriff Lawson. Quite frankly, I fail to see the logic of this move.

"Do we move the entire facility from its present location back to the sheriff's office at a cost of from $25,000 to $35,000, do we just move part of the equipment at a cost of from $10,000 to $20,000, or do we leave everything in place and just hire additional personnel for the sheriff's office to staff it.

"Even if we leave it in place and no additional dispatchers are needed, we still have the cost of training the sheriff's personnel — a cost of approximately $6,000."

Commissioner Collins listed some other questions that have come to mind. These included:

.. Has anyone talked to our statecertified dispatchers as to their feelings?

.. Has anyone talked to the sheriff? Does it want it back? How does he plan to manage it?

.. Has anyone talked to the EMTs or paramedics?

.. Are there outstanding and unresolved operations concerns with E- 911 today?

.. Is this move due to a projected cost savings? If so, what are the savings?

The commissioner then made a motion to re-affirm the decision made by the board in December of 2005 and allow the public safety department to continue bearing the responsibility for E-911 services, EMS, fire and rescue services, and emergency management.

The motion was seconded by Commissioner Cliatt.

In his comments, Cliatt said, "Ernie Doss is a gem. We are fortunate to have a department as well run as his is."

When the dust settled, a motion was passed to place the E-911 center under the control of the sheriff.

In his comments following the meeting, Commissioner Henderson said, "I feel it is in the best interest of the county that the sheriff take control of the E-911 center due to present economic conditions and the fact that the license for the GCIC system is in the sheriff's name."

The Georgia Crime Information Center is a computer network used to conduct background checks, license checks, etc. The Public Safety Department has been operating the system since 2006 in accordance with an agreement with the sheriff's office.

As for Commissioner Robinson, he said. "One reason for the move deals strictly with the budget. We're in very bad financial shape.

"Another reason is that Gerald Lawson has the GCIC license and it is ultimately his responsibility."

According to Chairman Johnson, "It is the responsibility of law enforcement personnel to be in charge of 911 and the GCIC system."

He indicated that his position is based on 34 years as a law enforcement officer.

In other business conducted during the meeting, Rev. Willie White pleaded with the commission to open the pool during the summer.

"For the last 23 years, I have been a minister here. I know we're living in very critical financial times — we can even feel the crunch in our churches.

"But I tell my church members that if we do right, the Lord will bless us. I believe this works in the public sector as well.

"We need a pool for our community. Please help us with this issue."

Another citizen speaking on behalf of opening the pool for the summer was Rev. Denise Freeman, who said, "We as a county voted for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) to pay for our pool. It was not built to generate revenues but as a service to the community."

She, too, asked the commission to revisit its decision to close the pool.

In an interview on Tuesday, February 17, Chairman Johnson said, "Last summer, it cost about $12,000 to operate the pool for 55 days, and we made $1,500. It would cost even more this year because we have to purchase a filter that is required by the federal government.

"This isn't forever," he explained. "It's for a year to help us get through the budget crisis."

In further business, the commission:

.. Heard a request made by Rev. Freeman that the commissioners look at ways to bring in additional revenues as well as reconsider the furloughs and cuts that have already been made.

Freeman also indicated that she had heard that Chairman Johnson was giving his paycheck back to the county. The confirmation of this was met with a round of applause from the audience.

.. Heard the Department of Public Safety Report given by Director Doss, who indicated that the ambulance and fire/rescue service responded to 99 calls for emergency assistance during the month of January. Call volume was down 10 calls from that of January 2008.

Concerning the E-911 Center, operators monitored 5,219 radio transmissions and dispatched a total of 521 public safety, law enforcement, and fire calls.

Doss added that 11 of the ambulance service's 12 full-time positions have been filled.

.. Heard the Recreation Department Report given by Director Kathie Davis, who said the contractor is in the process of shot blasting the floors in the gym to decrease humidity levels so the rubberized floor can be installed. The cost is being absorbed by the contractor.

In a related item of business, the board voted to strike the $10 travel allotment from the Lincoln County Recreation Advisory Board By-Laws.

.. Heard the Finance Department Report given by Director Traci Bussey.

.. Heard the Public Works Department Report given by Director Roby Seymour, who said his office billed 1,347 water customers and 491 "availability customers" last month for a total of $44,117.78.

Concerning roads, the director said his staff has been busy hauling sand and crush-and-run, scraping roads, working on signage, spreading rock at the convenience center, bush-hogging dirt roads, patching potholes, and cutting trees off of rights-of-way.

.. Heard the Planning and Zoning Department Report given by Director Seymour, who said his office issued 51 business licenses during the month of January for a total of $2,950.

Regarding code enforcement, 24 building permits were issued last month for a total of $1,273 and 105 building inspections were conducted.

.. Voted to grant a plat approval variance for property on Tankersley Road to provide for the division of a 13-acre tract into two parcels; one would be non-conforming for the time being. The request was made by Marilyn Dotson.

.. Voted to table a request to waive $268.57 in interest and penalties on taxes owed on land belonging to Michael Keyser, who stated that he did not receive the original tax bill.

.. Heard a report from Rick Baxter of Appalachian Mountain Services, Inc., the agency that collects delinquent taxes for the county.

To date, the county has collected 79.51 percent of its 2008 property taxes, which represents about a 10- percent decrease from this time last year.

"The delinquent rate is not inconsistent with other counties," said Baxter.

The county had 421 delinquent tax bills, but since it started working with Appalachian Mountain Services, the number has dropped to 151.

At the request of Chairman Johnson, all delinquent tax bills from 2005 to 2007 will be published in the March 12, 2009, edition of The Lincoln Journal.

.. Voted to contract with the CSRA Regional Development Center (RDC) to partially update the Lincoln County Joint Comprehensive Plan at a cost of $8,925. The city's share of the bill amounts to $1,705.

The plan makes it much easier for the county to obtain grants.

.. Voted to serve as the fiscal agent for Lincoln County Family Connection.

.. Voted to re-appoint Jim Mattison to the Planning Commission.

.. Voted to re-appoint George Leverett to the Development Authority.

.. Voted to re-appoint Pamela Ham to the Election Board.

.. Voted to appoint Frances Aycock to the Community Service Board of East Central Georgia.

.. Voted to re-appoint Trudelle Bentley-Leopard to the Department of Family and Children Services Board.

.. Voted to adopt a resolution, at the request of Cooper Cliatt, detailing what Clark's Hill Lake means to Lincoln County. A copy of the resolution will be sent to all of the county's legislative representatives.

It was further noted that the solution to the low lake levels does not lie with the United States Corps of Engineers but rather with the politicians. It will literally take an act of Congress to affect change.

.. Agreed to ask the county attorney and the county clerk to revise the alcoholic beverage ordinance to call for the sheriff to sign off on all license requests.

The revision will be presented to the commission at its next regular meeting.

.. Voted to enter into closed session to discuss two legal matters. Upon returning to open session, the board took no action.

At this point in the meeting, Director Doss and Commissioner Collins asked the board to clarify the director's employment responsibilities related to the E-911 center.

It was determined that Doss is responsible for all other areas except for 911 and that he is to report to the board of commissioners.

The next regular meeting of the commission will be held Thursday, March 12, at 6 p.m. in the courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse.

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