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Dispute over operation of dispatch center surfaces at meeting
In July 10-16 issue
By Greg Wells
Times Journal Managing Editor

JAMESTOWN - Officials met Tuesday night to consider melding the operation of the county ambulance and dispatch services.

Mayors Hollis DeHart of Russell Springs and Brooks Bates of Jamestown, along with County Judge-Executive Mickey Garner, brought a document to the board asking them to take over the oversight and funding for the Emergency Dispatch Center and the 911 addressing program.

After DeHart read the proposed new board documents to the three board members, some opposing points of view came to the forefront.

The division of powers was to be a stumbling block as members of the board read them differently, and the confusion extended to the audience.

That audience included essentially all of the members of the Emergency Dispatch Board, a majority of the fiscal court and other emergency workers.

David Withers, now the second newest appointee to the ambulance board, saw the document as saying there would be two or even three independent "bosses" in the new power structure who would all report to the board.

"He is the administrator over the whole thing," said DeHart pointing at Mark Coots.
He indicated that Wither's proposal was far from his understanding of the power structure, "I think we need one director."

Roy said he took that same understanding from his reading of the documents.

Withers was appointed to the board by Garner, and Roy was appointed by DeHart.

"It can't be Mark," said Garner explaining he didn't see how someone who wasn't a dispatcher could be "over dispatch."

Tony Wright, a member of the presently constituted dispatch board, said, "Mark doesn't' have to be a dispatcher to be the administrator of that department."

After some back-and-forth on that issue, there was a consensus that there was no agreement on that point. Several of the present dispatch board members indicated they favored a single administrator plan.

"Streamlining operations and saving money" was what DeHart indicated he saw as the reason for the entire list of changes.

"You all get together and work it out to your satisfaction," he asked of the board.

DeHart explained that as a mayor he was the administrator of people whose jobs he can not do, but he could still administer those departments.

As that topic was passed over without resolution, another matter sprang to the forefront: money.

Coots was asked if it was possible to absorb the operations of dispatch into the ambulance board's budget without a tax increase.

Coots said he had budgeted $56,000 from the ambulance board funds and thought it was likely that they could pay for dispatch center operations without any tax increase, but he needed more information to be absolutely sure.

He said the CMRS funds should make up the difference between what the district could fund and what operations would cost. He explained that the CMRS funds are paid monthly to the dispatch office from the state because the county office was now handling 911 calls from cell-phones.

That money is collected state-wide as a charge on all cell-phone bills, Russell Springs Police Chief Joseph M. Irvin explained.

Coots, who is also a member of the present dispatch board, was pressed about how much money that was and in the end said he didn't have a clear understanding of that.
Garner was quick with an answer: "$96,000 right now."

When the director of the present dispatch board, Irvin, was questioned about that turn of events after the meeting he said the board had only recently found out where that money was.

"Its because of a power struggle," Irvin said. "The dispatch supervisor has been conducting operations of dispatch through the county judge and this has created absolute chaos."

Irvin explained that the dispatch supervisor had, without the board's knowledge, set up a separate bank account to deposit that money into.

"We were not aware of that account until we specifically asked where all that money was," Irvin said.

He said they would be going through the books on this account, and the possibility of an audit was not ruled out.

Before the Tuesday night meeting ended, Coots was questioned about pay for the dispatchers.

"(My) first priority is to get the girls some more money," Coots said.

Without a reasonable pay scale, Coots explained that the dispatch center was simply a training facilities for other cities' dispatch programs.

In the end, Ambulance Board Director Beckham Wilson said the board would have a special called meeting at 7 p.m. July 15th to address the combining under one board of dispatch and ambulance services, which are already under the same roof.

Absent from the meeting was the Dispatch Supervisor Sheila McGaha.

Members of her board said she had told them earlier Tuesday that she was resigning and taking a job in Somerset on Monday.

Irvin said he was told another dispatcher was resigning as well and he said he would have to find out if that was the case before addressing the emergency staffing situation at the dispatch center.

The board was already advertising to fill two slots when he said they were told of two more resignations.

He said all he had arranged for all of the shifts to be covered at the dispatch center for the time being.

When he was asked about it, Garner said he he wasn't surprised by McGaha's resignation, but wouldn't elaborate on why that was.

"She had a job offer and had to give them an answer," Garner said.

He said she had told him of her decision earlier in the day, but added that she had called him before the meeting and said "She hasn't turned in her written resignation."

That emergency special called meeting of the dispatch board was set for Wednesday at 11 a.m. Look for a report in the July 12 Russell County News.
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