911 Center needs constant scrutiny

And so ends a dramatic and spectacular primer into the merry-go-round of Fayette County E-911 politics. The 3-2 Board of Commissioners vote on Feb. 22, which torpedoed a would-be third party investigation into the center following a polarizing month that pitted the county against itself, only underscored how radioactive E-911 has become.

Indeed, the vote was the local political equivalent of the famous line uttered in the Tom Clancy flick, “Clear and Present Danger,” by the cowardly chief of staff who stated, “I think it’s time for the whole thing to go away.”

The sad truth of the matter is that the problems at E-911 go well beyond events surrounding current Director Brown, who was the catalyst for the recent “crisis.”

Four years ago, I sat down with every single county commissioner then serving (including Oddo, Brown, and Ognio) and expressed to them my grave concerns both in writing and in person about the E-911 Center in general and its training program in particular.

In fact, many of the recommendations that I proposed to the commissioners at the time, including a third party investigation, were repeated nearly verbatim by Commissioner Brown last month.

During my meetings with the commissioners in 2014, I was surprised to learn that the problems at E-911 were not new. Indeed, it is unfortunate that Commissioner Maxwell lacks the historical perspective to truly appreciate the long-standing struggles within the center given his relatively recent electoral victory.

But even more unfortunate is the fact that the board would vote to officially continue the policy of non-action that has essentially been its position for years.

As the dust settles, and the county takes stock of the fiasco, Fayette residents have learned two important lessons. The first lesson is that government administrators and elected officials who are faced with crises tend to circle the wagons and silence opposition.

Such was evident through the predictable patronizing labels used against the current and former public servants who courageously voiced their concerns, but were effectively labeled as disgruntled employees who lacked evidence. For those individuals and their families who depend on them as breadwinners, they will not soon forget these insulting labels and the recent sins of omission during the next election season.

The second lesson is that our residents are smart enough to care about their own safety, to which E-911 holds the keys. Many in our county have heard of or witnessed a misdirected E-911 dispatch on their own street or neighborhood. The work environment at E-911 plays a direct role in these failed dispatches, which can endanger our residents.

As a result of the decision to not investigate E-911, our county residents must now adopt a “say something if you see something” policy when they hear about or witness a misdirected 911 dispatch by contacting their county commissioner directly (ideally by phone or in person) and conveying a clear message that the county administrator be held to account for the performance at E-911.

The local media should also spearhead efforts to investigate the concerns raised, but which were so easily brushed aside by the Feb. 22 vote. Our residents, who pay for the E-911 staff and center, deserve to learn the answers to such questions as: “What is the average success rate for Fayette County’s E-911 trainees as compared to other Georgia counties and how much money is being spent on these failed trainees as well as for the high turnover rate at the center?” and “How many misdirected E-911 dispatches have occurred over the previous 10-15 years and what is the measurement for improvement?”

The events of the last few months are only the next step in a long-running campaign to ensure that E-911 operates as efficiently and effectively as possible. The Feb. 22 board vote merely enshrined “The Whole Thing Should Go Away” policy for dealing with E-911 problems, which has been in place for years. As a result, the success of E-911 now requires increased involvement by local residents for the sake of our collective security.

Chris Barham
Fayetteville, Ga.