911 discussion raises issue of inactive advisory board

CONYERS — Discussion of a proposal to move oversight of Rockdale’s Emergency 911 operations from Rockdale Fire Rescue to the Sheriff’s Office was postponed Tuesday after county commissioners agreed to explore reactivating the dormant 911 advisory board.

Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness, who first brought the proposal forward, asked that the discussion be postponed until May.

Fire Rescue Chief Dan Morgan told commissioners that the advisory board has been inactive for years.

“We have been in discussions with commissioners, chief of staff, the sheriff, chief deputy … we have found out that there is an advisory board that has been filed with the state,” said Morgan. “The last time it was filed and updated was in 2000 … and that is something similar to what other counties are doing and is actually one of the things we are supposed to be doing.”

Chief Deputy Scott Freeman agreed with the postponement, saying that the Sheriff’s Office has been gathering information on the operations of the 911 center in order to make a formal presentation to commissioners.

Freeman also said it was important for citizens to know that the Sheriff’s Office and Fire Rescue continue to have a good working relationship.

“As we are having these conversations there is absolutely no issue between services or degradation of services between the Sheriff’s Office and the Fire Department,” he said.

The issue of moving control of the 911 Center to the RCSO arose at the Feb. 11 BOC meeting. At the following meeting on Feb. 18, Sheriff Eric Levett presented his case for moving the operations, while Fire Chief Morgan presented information on why oversight should remain with his department. BOC Chairman Richard Oden has opposed a similar proposal in the past when Jeff Wigington was sheriff.

Neither Morgan nor Levett were in office at the time the last 911 advisory board membership was filed with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

According to the county, membership on the 911 advisory board was designed to include the following positions:

• Board of Commissioners chairman

• 911 director

• 911 coordinator

• Sheriff

• Fire chief

• National EMS representative

• County finance director

• Public Service and Engineering director

Morgan said Wednesday that his research into the issue indicates that the 911 advisory board may never have met in an official capacity.

“The people on that board were all county employees,” said Morgan. “They worked together anyway so the board, from what we can find, never had to actually meet…. they were all in the same jurisdiction, so they all had a professional working relationship.”

Morgan said that when 911 centers serve multiple jurisdictions, there is more of a need for advisory boards and regular meetings.

Such is the case in neighboring Newton County, where the 911 Board of Governors is made up of representatives from the Covington Police Department, Newton County Sheriff’s Office, Covington Fire Department, Newton County Fire Department, Newton County EMS, Porterdale Police Department, Oxford Police Department, and Newton County Emergency Management Agency. The board meets on a quarterly basis.

Morgan also said that the law requiring an advisory board does not specify any meeting schedule nor reporting to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Morgan said his charge now will be to determine if a 911 advisory board is needed due to changes in call volume and population growth and what its makeup should be.

Management of Rockdale’s E-911 Center has seen some changes over the years.

Prior to 2008, Rockdale’s E-911 Center operated as an independent department under the supervision of Capt. Carolyn Hunter. When Hunter retired, she was succeeded by interim Director Julie Seng, who was also CAD 911 systems manager.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Oden, who was elected in 2008, began a reorganization of county government early in 2009 that involved moving E-911 under a newly created Emergency Services Department. At that time, then-Sheriff Wigington argued unsuccessfully that E-911 should be brought under the Sheriff’s Office since it generated most calls for service.

Once the new Emergency Services Department was formed, John McNeil, former deputy fire chief for the city of Atlanta, was hired as its first director in May 2009. McNeil was charged with overseeing the Fire Department, E-911 and animal control. A few weeks later, McNeil hired Cedric Scott as fire chief, replacing the retiring Walter Ellison.

In June 2010, citing budgetary concerns, county commissioners approved another restructuring, dismantling the Emergency Services Department and placing E-911 under Rockdale Fire Rescue. McNeil’s position was eliminated and he later was hired as fire chief for the Covington Fire Department.

Fire Chief Scott subsequently resigned in April 2011 and was replaced by Franklin Wilson in July of that year. Wilson resigned after less than one year on the job and was replaced by Chief Dan Morgan on an interim basis. Morgan was later named to the position on a permanent basis.

Under Georgia law, local governments are required to create by resolution an advisory board, although there are no penalties in the law for failing to form an advisory board and not all jurisdictions have them.

The board is mandated to consist of no more than 13 members, including the sheriff, representatives from other public safety agencies that respond to 911 calls, and other individuals knowledgeable about the 911 systems and emergency needs in the local community.

The advisory board is charged with assisting local government in reviewing and analyzing progress of public safety agencies in developing 911 system requirements; recommending steps to coordinate, regulate and develop a 911 system; identifying needed mutual aid agreements; assisting in establishing operating rules and procedures; and providing other necessary services.

The advisory board is also responsible for preparing a quarterly performance report regarding the operation of the 911 service and making it available to the public.