The consultant studying the Dane County emergency 9-1-1 call center delivered his report on March 29, 2004. It recommended adding eight new dispatchers.
County Executive Kathleen Falk responded by demanding that three communicators be cut loose in order to save the $138,000 in salary and benefits they represented.
That is what the official minutes of the Public Safety Communications Center Board reflect. Those minutes were unearthed by County Supervisor Jack Martz, who was a player at the time in fighting for funding the center, as he is today.
Those records are important in light of the executive's representations that she fully complied with the outside experts' recommended improvements, albeit belatedly. What the record shows instead is that her first impulse was to weaken the emergency call center, not strengthen it. The official minutes (PDF) from these 2004 meetings are available in the related downloads at right.
Take this entry from August 25, 2004 -- four months after the MTG Management Consultants out of Seattle recommended staffing up the emergency call center:
The 2005 [budget year] PSC [Public Safety Center] budget was submitted ... on July 23. It reflected the suggestions ... to include the staffing recommendations of the Strategic Plan.
On July 26, it was returned with a memo stating that it did not comply with the County Executive's requirements. After conferring with the chief of staff, a revised budget was re-submitted that was in compliance. To comply, a reduction of three communicators was necessary to meet the $138,000 directive. [Emphasis added.]
But the committee wasn't lying down. They were ready to fight for their communications center:
An accompanying memo was also sent to the County Executive stating that a reduction in communicator staff was not feasible and in fact there is need for additional staff.
That fight was led by then-Sheriff Gary Hamblin, Town of Madison Fire Chief David Bloom, Sup. Martz and -- get this -- then Chief Deputy Sheriff Joe Norwick, who would later succeed "Duke" Ellingson as the 9-1-1 Center chief. The minutes continue:
Hamblin led the discussion reflecting the need for the Center Board and the public safety organizations served by PSC to contact the County Executive to emphasize the need to include in the budget the positions recommended by the strategic plan.
Martz then moved to add the eight positions "recommended by the strategic plan." The official record also tells:
Norwick will work with the police chiefs to draft a similar letter and Bloom will do the same with the Dane County EMS Association and the Dane County fire chiefs.
Madison Ald. Paul Skidmore, also a member at the time of the 9-1-1 Board, asked in July 2004:
Why the county would commission that planning effort if it wouldn't follow its recommendations?
After all, only one communicator position had been added in the previous 10 years even as the number of calls had grown 12% in the previous five years alone, according to the minutes of the July 21, 2004 communications center board meeting. The study County Executive Falk was ignoring cost $84,000.
Faced with this coordinated blowback from the public safety professionals and some key supervisors, Kathleen Falk relented -- somewhat. By late October, she was ready to accept two more staffers -- one extra communicator and one training manager.
The strategic plan had recommended adding a total of eight more -- five more communicators, a support services manager, and two technical positions.
Eventually, three positions were added, after the County Board's Public Protection and Judiciary Committee added a third position after more pressure from then-Sup. Mike Hanson, then, as now, a uniformed police officer.
It was not the eight recommended by the consultants but neither was it the three reductions budgeted by Falk.
Hendrick to offload 9-1-1 costs on new tax
Sup. John Hendrick, vice chairman of the Dane County Board, told the 60 or so citizens who packed the Fitchburg Community Center Monday evening that he would introduce a new tax to fund that portion of the 9-1-1 center that covers rural and suburban Dane County outside the city of Madison.
He said he had not arrived at a levy figure but that it would resemble the library fee that is paid only by property taxpayers outside the city. Hendrick, who represents the Willy Street neighborhood in Madison, said he would also offload the sheriff's rural patrols onto the new authority. He said he had no co-sponsors as of yet.
Who was there and who wasn't
Hendrick was one of three liberal supervisors to attend the unofficial 9-1-1 listening session at the Fitchburg Community Center Monday night. The others were Kyle Richmond and Matt Veldran. Conservative supervisors spotted were: Dave Wiganowski, Duane Gau, Kurt Schlicht. Those are in addition to conservatives Jack Martz, Eileen Bruskewitz, and Ronn Ferrell, who called for the listening session. Also sponsoring was Madison Ald. Paul Skidmore, and also spotted were Fitchburg Mayor Tom Clauder and Madison Ald. Thuy Pham-Remmele; she testified.
I counted seven broadcast news media microphones at the "witness table."
One crowd count put the citizen attendance at 80. That seems a little high; 60 is conservative.
I saw no one from the county executive's office, nor the sheriff's office, nor Joe Norwick himself. Of the latter, one citizen told the elected officials, "he is a victim of the county executive who won't give him the money or the resources."
One emergency call center dispatcher spoke. Michelle Nightoak said "sometimes staffing is adequate, sometimes not."
She said one month she worked 80 hours of overtime. During an eight-hour shift they get two 15-minute breaks. They work four days on and two days off.