Fayette County Commission 3-to-2 vote: No probe needed for 9-1-1 Call Center

From top left clockwise, Fayette County Human Resources Director Lewis Patterson, 9-1-1 Director Bernard ‘Buster’ Brown, Commission Chairman Eric Maxwell, and Commissioner Steve Brown. Photos/Ben Nelms.
From top left clockwise, Fayette County Human Resources Director Lewis Patterson, 9-1-1 Director Bernard ‘Buster’ Brown, Commission Chairman Eric Maxwell, and Commissioner Steve Brown. Photos/Ben Nelms.

By a 3-to-2 vote last week, a majority of the Fayette County Commission in effect said, the 9-1-1 center isn’t broken, and we’re not going to fix it.

The vote was a rebuke to efforts by Commissioner Steve Brown to mount an independent outside investigation of 9-1-1 Center Director Bernard “Buster” Brown and the personnel issues at the center for more than a year.

Above, from top left clockwise, Fayette County Human Resources Director Lewis Patterson, 9-1-1 Director Bernard ‘Buster’ Brown, Commission Chairman Eric Maxwell, and Commissioner Steve Brown. Photos/Ben Nelms.

At the Feb. 22 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved another motion to have Brown access county personnel records, and to take possession of them after being redacted. Brown and Commissioner Charles Rousseau did not have the votes to conduct the investigation.

The agenda item at the Feb. 22 meeting, tabled at the Feb. 8 meeting, was placed on the agenda by Brown and called for discussion and action related to the complaints and investigation of the working environment of the county’s 9-1-1 center.

It was at that meeting that a long list of current and former 9-1-1 staff and members of the public spoke, with some charging numerous personnel improprieties pertaining to 9-1-1 Director Brown and with others, especially current staff, speaking in support of him.

“Former employees of the 911 Department issued public complaints related to a caustic work environment,” Brown said before the vote. “Those employees supplied the Board of Commissioners with documentation related to the situation. After reviewing the aforementioned documentation, I met with the Human Resources Director [Lewis Patterson] to obtain some clarity on this significant breakdown in a county department which is vital to the health and safety of every citizen of Fayette County. That meeting has led me back to the Board of Commissioners with a great deal of concern regarding our administration of leadership within our ranks.”

Director Brown received a disciplinary action pertaining to his interactions with some 9-1-1 staff in February 2017. According to the commission majority, there have been no other issues since that time.

After reading a lengthy prepared statement relating to Director Brown, and how some personnel issues were handled by county human resources and administrative staff, Commissioner Brown made a motion for an “impartial examination, by an independent third party, preferably with prosecutorial or investigative experience, to conduct an investigation, including both current and former 9-1-1 call center employees and active county parties outside of the 9-1-1 call center, such as, but not limited to, the county administrator, HR staff, the county marshal’s office, (the county’s outside personnel firm) EAP representative and the municipal law enforcement agencies.”

The report would then be presented to commissioners for review and possible action.

Commissioner Charles Rousseau seconded the motion.

Chairman Eric Maxwell began the discussion. He cited letters from the EAP representative, EMS Chaplain Frank Mercer and one from the county’s five mayors.

Regarding what the Feb. 19 letter called their concerns regarding the alleged personnel issues at the 9-1-1 center, the mayors said, “We believe having this matter prolonged any longer than necessary will have a profoundly negative effect on the morale of our communications officers and the operation of the 9-1-1 center overall. For the sake of our citizens and the well-being of the communications officers, we urge you to do whatever it takes to ensure that this issue gets resolved as expeditiously as possible. The county’s employees do not need the possibility of having their personal information needlessly shared with the public looming over them. If there is any truth to the allegations about how the 9-1-1 center is being run, employee morale cannot be optimal and fearing that their personnel information could be released at any moment is not helping matters.”

Maxwell followed-up saying that, beyond the various allegations previously stated, he had not heard anything new. He also noted that an active EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) complaint is not part of the discussion.

“If 9-1-1 was missing calls and we had problems out there because we had bad dispatches, then I would be up in arms. This is not what this is about. This is not about bad dispatches. This is about, generally, what every organization (of any size) has got. As far as I know, we have no problems with 9-1-1,” Maxwell said.

Addressing Commissioner Brown, Maxwell said, “Just because you’ve got a right to have access to employee files, doesn’t mean that you take the next step and publish it. That’s the problem I’ve got with it. You’ve got to use that right expeditiously. So, if I had heard stuff in your presentation that would lead me to believe we need an investigation, then I’d be voting for an investigation. But I haven’t heard anything. A lot of what we’ve heard is what we, in the legal field, would say is hearsay. I see no need to do an independent investigation in the form of the motion you made.”

Commissioner Randy Ognio weighed-in, saying Brown’s discussions were with disgruntled, former employees.

“He calls it a crisis, yet he never visited the 9-1-1 center,” Ognio said. “Why would we do an investigation of something that’s working fine now? If you’d been there, you’d see how well things are working.”

Ognio noted Bernard Brown’s previous reprimand for his actions in early 2017, adding that there is no indication of a problem after the director was reprimanded. Ognio said he saw no need for the investigation sought in Commissioner Brown’s motion.

Commissioner Chuck Oddo also commented, saying the former staff that could have pursued the allegations against Director Brown did not go to court.

“This (personnel) process has been resolved. I’ve heard nothing negative about Director Brown since his reprimand. Public safety is suffering from what’s going on up here (with the board of commissioners),” Oddo said, adding that he saw no reason for an investigation. “This has been a public spectacle. It has been a trial on Facebook, and that’s not how we should be conducting ourselves.”

Adding his comments next was Rousseau.

“What’s at stake here is us doing an assessment of this environment that is caused all this angst. While it’s uncomfortable, it’s part of our responsibility. We have a moral obligation to oversee the well-being of this county, inclusive of various departments,” Rousseau said. “And to put it to rest is to take it out of the hands of an internal system that seems to have maybe done a decent job, maybe not done a decent job. And allow that individual organization or individual to give us a blueprint on what we don’t see.”

Rousseau said the board needs an outside investigation.

“If not, what we have is a cloud forever hanging over this situation as if it was not put to bed,” said Rousseau.

Brown and Rousseau voted in favor of the independent investigation, while Maxwell, Oddo and Ognio were opposed.

After a discussion on Open Records requests, Oddo made a motion to have Commissioner Brown access the personnel documents he chooses, then have an approved individual ensure that all pertinent information is redacted, with the documents then given to Brown.

The motion passed on a unanimous vote.

The only thing remaining that was related to the 9-1-1 center was the public comments portion of the meeting, where a handful of people spoke. It was at the previous meeting where hours of public comments were made on the matter.