Dispatch, first responder petition opposes outsourcing management

Supervisors have no say in the decision; telecom board meeting is next week

More than 200 emergency dispatchers, deputies, other first responders and citizens of Webster County have signed a petition asking for the Webster County Sheriff’s Department to take over management of the telecommunications center that dispatches emergency responders in the county.

The petition comes weeks after the Webster County Telecommunications Board announced they were looking at hiring an outside firm — possibly IXP, of Princeton, New Jersey — to handle the day-to-day operations of the 911 dispatch center. The board is also considering the consulting services of Dennis Henderson, a former Clive city manager who helped to develop a joint communications facility, which later became Westcom Communications Center. It dispatches police, fire and emergency medical services for the cities of Clive, Norwalk, Urbandale, Waukee and West Des Moines.

“We’re here on behalf of the Webster County dispatchers,” Dispatcher Mackenzie Conrad said Tuesday. “Our ultimate goal is to work under the sheriff’s department like it was about 10 years ago.

“We feel it’s not in the best interests to have an outside company come and take over our dispatch center.”

Conrad and Dispatcher Ann Garvey presented the petition to the Webster County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning. The board has no say over what will be done, as the telecom center is run by a different board.

The supervisors asked if they had presented the petition to the Webster County Telecommunications Board yet.

“Not yet,” Garvey said. “We wanted to make sure you were all in approval of having the Webster County Sheriff take the Webster County Telecommunication dispatchers over.”

The supervisors didn’t give an answer to that.

Asked later if he thought the supervisors would be in favor, board Chair Mark Campbell said he didn’t know.

The telecom board consists of two rural mayors, two county representatives, and three city of Fort Dodge representatives.

Conrad said management of the dispatch center switches back and forth between the sheriff’s office and the Fort Dodge Police Department every year.

“When I was hired 27 years ago, I was the last one hired under Sheriff Griggs,” Garvey said, referring to former Webster County Sheriff Chuck Griggs.

“He was always in charge of the dispatchers, the sheriff’s office, the jail, and his deputies,” she added. ”It wasn’t until he had two strokes, which made it a burden for the chief deputy to take on so many entities.

“That’s when we started going back and forth between the two departments instead of having a significant boss in charge of us.”

“You are correct, it does seem to bounce back and forth between who is mostly overseeing it, whether it is the sheriff’s office or the police department,” Supervisor Merill Leffler said. “And I personally believe that’s been a problem.”

That’s one of the problems which has previously been cited by Fort Dodge Assistant Police Chief Cory Husske, who is chair of the telecom board.

Husske said at a board meeting in September that when he became chair, he was surprised to learn that he was expected to serve as the ground level manager to the daily operations of the dispatch center.

The petition urges the board “to act and save our current employees jobs,” Conrad said. “We want to continue to have knowledgeable people who care about our public, and work for Webster County.”

Conrad and Garvey are both concerned dispatchers could lose their jobs in the switch. They said it’s possible calls could be rerouted to an out-of-state call center and not handled in Webster County at all.

President and Chief Operating Officer of IXP Larry Consalvos has previously told county officials the dispatchers would continue to work from the Webster County Law Enforcement Center.

Board members have said they are considering an outside company so there is more consistent leadership and training of dispatchers at the center.

Husske has said it wasn’t to save money, noting that only about $14,000 would be saved in a year from the switch.

The budget for the current fiscal year is $612,350, said Fort Dodge Police Chief Roger Porter. That makes for a savings of only 2.3 percent.

“I can assure you that myself and this board is not being swayed by such an insignificant number,” Husske said in September.

The communications center currently employs five full-time and four part-time dispatchers, Porter said.

The next telecom board meeting is Nov. 29 at 3 p.m.