WESTERHOLD: Pennies from heaven|Take a quiz, win a lunch

Regionalizing emergency dispatch services can be tricky business, but it's well under way. In fact, some local officials have worked
Matt Westerhold
May 24, 2010

Regionalizing emergency dispatch services can be tricky business, but it's well under way. In fact, some local officials have worked on it for more than a year. Others are Johnny-Come-Latelys.

But, like most things Erie County, the power princes dig in their heels and declare dominance. In July, County Commissioner Tom Ferrell closed a meeting, barring the public from a regionwide discussion about dispatch. That "my way or the highway" approach to handling the public's business sure has its advantages.

Or not.

Ferrell and commissioners Bill Monaghan and Nancy McKeen have come to a consensus with very little public deliberation and now are pushing a centralized dispatch system controlled by the county sheriff. Ferrell and McKeen, in particular, have done such a good job over the years addressing the jail overcrowding problem it's a natural fit for them to want to muck this up, too.

The dynamic duo has talked about jail overcrowding, ruminated about it, talked some more and effectively did nothing to fix the problem. It's the 800-pound gorilla in the room that threatens the safety of residents, and these two engage in the same do-nothing conversation for the better part of a decade.

Last week they came up with a solution they think might work: a new misdemeanor jail where judges could send non-violent offenders. Wow. It's as good an idea today as it was years ago. Here's hoping it really takes shape this time and gets past the posturing Ferrell and McKeen do so well, and doesn't take another decade to get off the ground.

With this kind of record dealing with a major concern in the county -- the ability to take bad guys off the streets and put them in a jail cell -- why would anyone have any confidence these two and Commissioner Bill Monaghan would have any clue of how to organize a regional dispatch system?

They have said, however, they were willing to spend taxpayer money for a dispatch study. Ooooh, a study, that gives me goose bumps.

Criminals know the shortfalls of this leadership team better than voters do. The bad guys taunt police officers, almost daring to be arrested. They know they'll be home for dinner before the cop's shift ends because there's no room at the jail.

But the really neat part for commissioners in getting behind a county-controlled regional dispatch plan: Voters might approve a sales tax measure to fund it.

And this team has been working so hard they'll be able to offer lots of perks from a new tax ... a dispatch study, dispatch services, a new one-story jail that meets inmate population needs and has a really cool cafeteria, economic development, maybe a small Erie County jet emblazoned with the images of all three county commissioners to park at the new airport, some retirement funds for GEM executive director Mark Litten ... oh, the list is endless.

Taxpayers will run to the polls if you pretend a quarter-percent sales tax hike will solve everything.

But there's an alternative regional dispatch plan commissioners want to ignore. It offers limited start-up costs, ease of transition, immediate savings to taxpayers, availability of state and federal grant money, and other benefits.

It's a plan that came together after months of cooperative discussion.

The alternative plan was hatched by city and township officials and people who actually deal every day with heavy dispatch loads: Police chiefs Kim Nuesse and Tim McClung. Go figure ... department heads in Sandusky and Perkins Township responsible for dispatch services in their communities finding a consensus across the boundaries that divide communities.

Even Huron's police department has shown some interest in this approach, which could be expanded in the future to serve other communities.

But dang, no study needed for this alternative.

In an effort to give everyone the opportunity to form his or her own opinion, I've compiled a list of quotes from public officials involved with the approximate dates their statements were made. The first list is followed by a list of newsmakers.

I compiled the lists from stories that appeared in the Register and from public documents. One quote is from a conversation. I'll buy lunch for the first person who gets all 10 right. To enter send me an e-mail at mattwesterhold@sanduskyregister.com listing and attributing the quotes.

The Quotes:

A. The current county-wide safety-services dispatch effort is built on a cracked foundation. (Aug. 21)

B. The citizens of our collective communities would be sickened by the relentless power posturing ... (Feb. 1)

C. We didn't want to cause unnecessary public concern (explaining the closed-door meeting that blocked public participation). (July 19)

D. Are we going to order takeout? (daily)

E. That's confidential. (Aug. 31)

F. If we're going to spend this money and do this study then people damn well better be on the same page. I've honestly heard very little. (Aug. 30)

G. I'm in charge here. (March 30, 1981)

H. It looks like things are starting to move a little bit. (Aug. 30)

I. I did not have sex with that woman ... (Jan 26, 1998)

J. Hamilton County has a regional dispatch serving 44 police and fire agencies that has been in place since the 1960s and is a nationwide model. It is NOT run by the sheriff's office and works well because it allows for all agencies to have a voice in quality of service ... (Jan. 31)

The Sources:

1.Tom Ferrell, Erie County commissioner

2. Gen. Alexander Haig, White House appointee

3. Tim Coleman, Perkins Township trustee

4. Kato Kaelin, roommate

5. Kim Nuesse, Sandusky police chief

6. Nancy McKeen, Erie County commissioner

7. Dennis Murray Jr., Sandusky city commissioner

8. Mike Meinzer, Sandusky fire chief

9. President Bill Clinton

10. Bill Monaghan, Erie County commissioner

Good luck.