The Board of Commissioners meeting last week represented part three of the continuing saga of intrigue and debate surrounding allegations of impropriety involving management and operations at the Fayette County 911 center.
At the Feb. 8 meeting, commissioners opted to table action on the issue due to the absence of Chairman Maxwell. While there was no proposed action by the commissioners at that meeting, they did allow extensive public commentary on numerous allegations, with many raising concerns over publicized allegations and findings. A large contingent of current 911 Center staff spoke on behalf of the current director.
The expectation for last week’s meeting was that commissioners would listen to proposed action, hear additional public commentary, and then vote to proceed in a conclusive direction.
While some of that transpired, it clearly was not as anticipated. The discussion amongst the commissioners began with an effort to restore civility, followed by a call to shift numerous agenda items forward to precede discussion of the 911 center.
Chairman Maxwell also made it clear that due to health concerns he intended to promptly leave the meeting at 9:30 p.m. The meeting proceeded, consuming considerable time resolving the agenda items that were moved forward. After more than two hours the agenda finally reached the 911 Center item.
Commissioner Brown was allowed to read a lengthy statement on his findings and concerns, encompassing roughly 20 minutes, after which he made a motion for an independent investigation. Discussion amongst commissioners then pursued, with Chairman Maxwell calling for those in the audience in support of the 911 Center’s director to stand, as if taking a survey.
Commissioner Maxwell then stated that most of what Commissioner Brown shared in his statement was nothing new to him and did nothing to alter his position. He then made clear that he had no intent of supporting an independent investigation.
He was followed by Commissioners Ognio and Oddo making similar statements of non-support for an independent investigation, with Oddo stating that it didn’t matter what happened previously, all that matters now was that the 911 Center seemed to be operating smoothly. This occurred in advance of any public comment.
Commissioner Rousseau cautioned his fellow commissioners that the issue was not about the current director but about proper policy and procedure being followed and enforced. Commissioner Ognio then took a procedure to end discussion, including public comment, and forced a vote on the proposal for an independent investigation. The motion was defeated with a 3-2 vote.
To me it became patently clear that this was the engineered outcome from the onset. The decision to move routine items forward on the agenda was to consume the availability of full commission time. Commissioner Ognio’s surprise motion, a call to question, was no more than a scripted ploy to end public debate.
I have to admit to being personally shocked by this development and extremely disappointed in how it played out. This was not so much for the legitimate exercise of commission procedure but for the false pretenses that were allowed to go unanswered under the same.
It was very wrong for Commissioner Maxwell to call for supporters of the 911 Center director to stand — as if any current staffer that wanted to retain his or her job and were able to attend the meeting would not do so.
Notwithstanding that the issue is not whether or not one supports the current director, but if it were, there should have been a public call for those for or against to attend. Noticeably that was not what certain commissioners desired, so there was no public call for attendance.
What was most disappointing was the complete absence of integrity on display, and the failure to understand what is fundamentally wrong, both with what transpired in the past and why it is critically important to acknowledge and correct the failures that allowed it to come to pass.
When Commissioner Oddo stated that what happened in the past did not matter it shook me to the core. I found it hard to contemplate how a sitting commissioner, apparently joined by several others, found it acceptable that the end justified the means. Perhaps this was a slip of the tongue but it nonetheless carries serious ramifications.
Not only is this a representation of shortsightedness from county leadership, it leads us down the path of repeating the past with the potential for significant negative consequences — in an area of critical importance to the well-being and safety of our county’s residents.
After the voting concluded, the public was allowed to comment and among several statements made, I stated that I simply did not trust the current bureaucracy and county commissioners to diligently conduct a review of what transpired.
Sadly, the way last week’s commission meeting unfolded, that lack of trust has significantly increased.
Now, rather than an independent review and a managed resolution of findings from the same, at a minimum we may be forced to witness the continued drip of unflattering information to the public. The worst case scenario may be much more consequential.
Terrence K. Williamson