A discussion over the idea of moving 911 oversight from the public safety department to the Sheriff's Office turned into a clash over protocol during the Board of Commissioners work session Tuesday.
The issue had been postponed from last week's BOC meeting, after it was put on the agenda the day before, to allow a fuller discussion and to allow BOC Chairman Richard Oden, who had been out of town last week, to be present.
In his presentation Tuesday, Sheriff Eric Levett pointed out the majority of the calls handled by E-911 are for the RCSO - about 70 to 80 percent. The general practice in the state is to have 911 under the local sheriff's office or police department, he said.
"I believe we can reduce complaints of ‘it took too long for the deputies to respond' or the ‘deputies never responded,"' Levett said.
Oden said his concern was the way the issue was brought up. "I'm the chair... It would have been proper for you to contact the chair," said Oden. "I'm concerned about the transparency of the process."
Sheriff Levett replied, "Since you're addressing me on the spot, Chairman, I understand your concerns. But I did not ask this to be put on the agenda today or this week. It's not my job to point fingers to anyone. I had some questions; I had some concerns; I addressed them... I did not divert around you."
He said he had not contacted Oden, but that the chairman was next on his call list.
Oden said, "It's a disrespect to the chairman's office to bring this to the agenda when the chairman is out of town. I thought the way it was approached was inappropriate as an elected chairman of Rockdale County."
Van Ness had previously said she had brought the issue to the agenda last week.
"Work sessions are an opportunity to be transparent," she said at the end of the meeting. "It's very important to have conversations not behind closed doors," she said, adding some of the best ideas can come from the community and some from the commissioners and staff.
Nesbitt reiterated that he had been part of the decision to postpone the discussion from last week. He reminded Oden, "The sheriff is an elected official He's a constitutional officer. All three of us are elected at large. The sheriff has the privilege to contact any elected official" as does any resident.
Nesbitt said, "There's only one sheriff in Rockdale. There's only one chair..."
Oden interjected, "There's only one chairman in Rockdale." He continued, "The fact still remains there's a protocol process that remains. I think that process is tainted."
Nesbitt said he had asked Chief of Staff Gerald Sanders to reach out to the various chiefs and agency heads to avoid a "battle royal, which happened today."
Sanders said he had reached out. However, the county had been closed for two days last week for the winter storm and the RCSO and RCFR had been very busy during that time.
Rockdale Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Morgan, who has responsibility of the E-911 center under him, reported that the E-911 center was performing better than ever and finally better staffed.
The majority of the calls to the E-911 center are answered in 8 seconds or less, said Morgan, whereas the national standard is 15 seconds or less.
Previously, there had been only three operators to a room, and now the center had four to six operators, with a total of four supervisors and 19 operators altogether.
E-911 Director Bill Cates said the digital radio system was in the testing phase and would be ready to roll out soon. "I feel like we have a platform in place; for the first time we're ahead of the technology curve."
Oden said to The News after the meeting, "The Sheriff, if he had a problem, should have contacted my office. What he said was the Post 2 commissioner advanced that conversation. She's not in charge of operations. For him to tell me ‘I was going to call you next,' that's disrespect."
"I can understand he feels disrespected," Levett told The News after the meeting. "But you can't be contradictory and say you feel disrespected when you're disrespecting someone else."
Levett said he didn't want to participate in personal attacks but also would not tolerate personal attacks on his staff.
"I have the ability to contact who I want to contact," he said. "At the appropriate time, I would have contacted the Chairman," when the issue was ready to move forward in a stronger fashion, said Levett.