Parisi is seeking clear lines of authority and responsibility.
It's rare when a public official steps up and says that he wants to take on a controversial problem.
Since its inception, the system has operated under an odd governance hybrid. In a letter sent to the Dane County Board in support of Parisi's initiative, well-respected UW Chief of Police Sue Riesling highlights the issue:
For 23.5 years as Chief of the UWPD I have watched several Center Directors come and go -- the one constant has been the Center Board. For my length of service, the Center Board has always been a difficult body. I have never been sure a Center can be run well by "committee". Things appear unclear. I see little evidence that the Center Board model "works". In fact I think there are lots of examples to the contrary. The County funds the 911 Center but the Center Board "directs" it. The Center Director is a county employee yet answers -- sort of to the County Exec and the Center Board.
As a rule, it's seldom a good management practice to separate budget and management responsibility. We're seeing that play out at the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission as well, and it was often a problem for me with those city departments that were answerable to bodies outside of the mayor's office and Common Council.
What works is clear lines of authority and responsibility.
If things go wrong at the 911 center, the public should be able to hold one body or a single person responsible. If they go right, the public should know who to thank. But as it stands, the 911 board, its director and both the county executive and Dane County Board all share a piece of the responsibility.
But it should work is the way most agencies do. The county executive appoints the 911 director subject to the approval of the county board, and the director answers and gets direction from the county exec, who also controls his budget. There can be a 911 board, but it should be advisory to the county.
From a strictly political perspective, Parisi's proposal is risky. Right now, he can hide behind the 911 board whenever he wants to. Essentially he's proposing to drop that cover and take on direct responsibility, not just for any agency but for one with recent troubles and in which effective performance can make the difference between life and death. It's a remarkable act of political courage.