MOUNT VERNON — The division of authority in the 9-1-1 system was discussed during a Knox County 9-1-1 Board meeting Wednesday afternoon. Brian Hess, 9-1-1 coordinator, talked about his role in the chain of command, and board members questioned the current system, which grants the Knox County EMA Board the authority to hire and fire the 9-1-1 coordinator, excluding the 9-1-1 Board from the process.
Hess, who served for a year as deputy EMA director under former director Marie Blubaugh, took over the director’s position and that of 9-1-1 coordinator on an interim basis after Blubaugh resigned earlier this year. The Knox County EMA Board made the final decision to give Hess both titles last month.
One issue discussed was the 9-1-1 Board’s lack of input in the selection process for the coordinator’s position, because the EMA director, who ultimately serves in both capacities, is chosen strictly by the EMA Executive Board. 9-1-1 Board members voiced concern about the exclusion of their board from the hiring, firing or disciplinary decisions regarding the EMA director/9-1-1 coordinator.
Board member Rick Lanuzza, who represents the Knox County Fire and EMS Chiefs Association, said he has never received a satisfactory answer when questioning why the 9-1-1 Board does not have any authority in the selection or discipline process of the coordinator.
Richard Mavis, who sits on both the EMA and 9-1-1 board as mayor of Mount Vernon, said the EMA board’s process for choosing and supervising a director preceded the creation of the 9-1-1 Board in the county.
The EMA director was given the responsibility of 9-1-1 coordinator when 9-1-1 was brought to the county in 1994. At that time it was decided one person would have the time to handle the responsibilities of both positions, and the consolidation of the two roles would be economical for taxpayers.
Lanuzza said because the 9-1-1 Board pays 45 percent of the EMA director/9-1-1 coordinator’s salary, the board is entitled to have some authority over the position.
Sheriff David Barber agreed.
“We weren’t even aware of who was interviewed,” he said of the EMA Board’s process while selecting the director. “No one involved us in the process.”
Lanuzza said the misconduct allegations against Blubaugh brought by the EMA Board before her resignation should have been an issue before the 9-1-1 Board as well.
“That was in my eyes a 9-1-1 issue, not an EMA issue,” Lanuzza said.
“I agree with you 100 percent,” Barber said.
Mavis said if the board felt the points were valid, a joint meeting between the two boards should be called.
He added no one has expressed an issue with the process in the past.
“For years people have known exactly what that make was,” Mavis said. “No one brought it up.”
“Do we have a say over Brian?” asked Lanuzza.
Mavis said when the EMA Board gave the director authority over 9-1-1 in 1994, the process made sense, but said that now may be the time to look at the distribution of authority.
9-1-1 Board Chairman Teresa Bemiller and board member Shawn Christy offered the opinion that the 9-1-1 Board does have authority over the coordinator. Christy said the coordinator’s job description clearly states the coordinator is under the authority of the 9-1-1 Board.
Mavis suggested Hess call a meeting between the two boards.
Barber then asked Hess how much of his time is spent on duties as EMA director, and how much as 9-1-1 coordinator.
“Is it your plan to assign any 9-1-1 duties to the new Deputy EMA Director?” he asked.
Hess said the new deputy, who will be named later this week, will have duties involving the 9-1-1 system.
Hess asked the board if it felt he was overstepping the boundaries of his new position.
“I don’t think that’s a board issue,” Mavis told him. “We expect you to grow into this position and I don’t want you to spend a lot of time worrying about if you’re overstepping your bounds.”
Barber commended Hess for “stepping up to the plate.” He said Hess has made an obvious effort to improve communication between all parties involved in the 9-1-1 system.
“When in doubt, do the right thing and it doesn’t matter who you answer to,” Christy told Hess.
The proposal to form a new hiring committee charged with interviewing prospective 9-1-1 dispatchers was again discussed. Hess said he would like to see a representative of another branch of public safety, such as fire and EMS, join Mount Vernon Police Chief Mike Merrilees and Barber in the interview process. Merrilees and Barber both said they usually defer the interview responsibilities to a designee in their office.
Lanuzza, Christy and Hess said they would like to see a dispatcher added to the interview process. Merrilees and Barber said that in the past a dispatcher’s participation in the interviews had not proven effective. Christy again brought up the idea oft adding a supervisory position on each dispatching shift at both dispatch centers.
Merrilees suggested gathering information from other agencies regarding their use of lead dispatchers or supervisors on each shift. Christy suggested a supervising dispatcher may have better input during the interview process.
The county dispatch center has nine of its 13 dispatch positions filled, after a recent termination and another resignation. The city dispatch center has 12 of its 13 positions filled. More new hires will follow later this year as the most recently hired dispatchers finish their training.
Once the new dispatch software is installed and up and running later this summer, Hess said the dispatchers could possibly work at both centers to fill vacancies.