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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Merger meltdown: County 911 board halts consolidation talks for dispatch centers

  • Ongoing talks to consolidate the city of Shawnee and Pottawatomie County 911 centers into one to better use resources and serve residents came to a halt Monday when the County E-911 board voted to stop all negotiations toward that effort.
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  • Ongoing talks to consolidate the city of Shawnee and Pottawatomie County 911 centers into one to better use resources and serve residents came to a halt Monday when the County E-911 board voted to stop all negotiations toward that effort.
    The Pottawatomie County Enhanced 911 System Trust Authority passed a motion to “stop and cease all negotiations,” said J.R. Kidney, chairman of that board.
    That 3-1 vote came one day before a joint committee meeting was scheduled between city and county officials to begin hammering out further details on the proposed merger. That meeting is no longer expected.
    Kidney made the motion, which was seconded by Aaron Williams. Kidney, Williams and board member Patrick Vance voted in favor of stopping the merger talks, but board member Judy Chance was opposed. Mike Booth, the fifth member of that board, wasn’t there for that part of the meeting, Kidney said.
    After years of consolidation talks, which heated up over the past year, the board’s actions disappointed many who’ve been working toward combining the centers.
    “It’s a shame — I’m disappointed,” said Shawnee Police Chief Russell Frantz, who was among those initiating the consolidation idea when he became police chief in 2008. “It’s unfortunate they turned this thing off… my door is open if anyone wants to talk communication consolidation in the future,” the chief added.
    Kidney, who also serves as Tecumseh’s assistant police chief, said the board took a survey among the clients the center dispatches for, including 13 rural fire departments, along with the Asher, Maud and Tecumseh police departments, as well as the Pottawatomie County sheriff’s office.
    Of all those entities, only five of them were somewhat interested in a city/county merger, Kidney said, and that was only if the 911 center remained under the existing trust when merging with Shawnee.
    The remainder of those surveyed opposed any consolidation and wanted the dispatch centers left alone, he said.
    “As chairman, I felt we needed to listen,” Kidney said.
    Kidney, who said the consensus of the survey was that merging the two 911 centers wasn’t going to get an ambulance or county deputy to places like Asher or Wanette any faster, said the citizens of Pottawatomie County voted to have a 911 center, and county residents pay 10 percent in 911 tariff fees. Shawnee residents pay a 3-percent tariff.
    Kidney, who said the feeling was that merging the two centers wasn’t going to enhance the overall system, said the board didn’t think the scheduled joint committee meeting was going to serve any purpose or get them closer to a merger.
    Page 2 of 3 - “It was too hard to work out and meet in the middle,” he said, adding that while the merger talks continued, they weren’t really concentrating on their existing 911 center.
    During the meeting, Kidney said Tecumseh City Manager Jimmy Stokes made a point that during times of emergencies for either the Shawnee 911 center or the county 911 center in Tecumseh, such as a phone outage, they can roll their phones to the other center to be answered.
    “Maybe two different centers may not be a bad idea…we have a backup system in the same county,” Kidney said, adding he feels keeping the centers separate is best.
    Williams, who is also Tecumseh’s fire chief, voted in favor of halting the merger talks but admitted he’s a little bit disappointed himself.
    “We’ve been talking since 2008 — we’re no closer to combining dispatches than the man in the moon,” Williams said.
    Williams still believes that having one center is the best for citizens of Pottawatomie County, but also mentioned the poll for those agencies they dispatch for, and said many were worried about the possibility of Shawnee services getting priority.
    But Frantz and city officials envisioned a streamlined system with everyone working together in one room to foster better communications for the betterment of all residents in the county. Frantz said he still believes one combined center can provide better services.
    Frantz, who said Shawnee will continue to maintain a professional relationship with the county 911 center, said Shawnee plans to go ahead and update its communications system and dispatch center, which wasn’t contingent upon the merger. The city is spending about $2.1 million system-wide for the upgrade, which will include plenty of room for expansion.
    “Shawnee will continue to maintain a professional relationship with the County 911 Center. Shawnee Communications personnel and I will continue to work with the County 911 Communications Center to best serve the citizens of this county,” he said, adding, “We’re all here to serve citizens.”
    Chrissy Oldham, city of Shawnee communications supervisor, said the two dispatch centers have always had a good working relationship and will continue to work together.
    City Manager Brian McDougal, who called the 911 board’s decision “unfortunate,” said he, too, was disappointed.
    Shawnee Mayor Wes Mainord was surprised to hear they didn’t want to move forward with a merger.
    “It breaks my heart,” the mayor said. “Evidently they made a decision…. they’ll go their way and we’ll go ours.”
    The ongoing efforts of consolidation have included both city and county officials touring 911 centers in Lawton and Muskogee that have successfully merged county and city entities.
    Page 3 of 3 - Both the Shawnee City Commission and the Board of Pottawatomie County commissioners signed resolutions in recent months showing their intent and willingness to move forward with consolidation. Since then, legal counsel from both sides have had meetings to iron out some of the details, but the joint committee hadn’t yet discussed negotiations involving key areas.
    District 2 County Commissioner Randy Thomas, who was still trying to understand more about what happened Monday, said, “I wish everybody could get along.”
    Calls seeking further comments about the 911 board’s decision from Pottawatomie County commissioners Eddie Stackhouse and Melissa Dennis, as well as County 911 Director Tommy Arnold, were not returned by press deadlines Monday night.
    Watch for updates.
     
     
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