Dane Co. executive proposes stripping 911 Center Board of authority

Parisi to ask for authority over Dane County 911 Center
Dane Co. executive proposes stripping 911 Center Board of authority

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi plans to ask the County Board to approve a change in how the 911 Center is governed; shifting its authority from what he calls a cumbersome bureaucracy to his office.

Currently, the Dane County 911 Center is overseen by a 13-member committee with chiefs, commanders, officers and medical personnel from fire, police and EMS located in jurisdictions around the county. The committee is tasked with setting policy for the 911 Center while the County Board is its funder.

“We look at the way it’s structured now and don’t really think it makes a lot of sense,” Parisi said. “I need the ability, the county needs the ability to step in and make changes when they need to be made.”

Parisi said when News 3 uncovered earlier this year lengthy delays answering 911 calls and subsequently lengthy delays dispatching emergency crews, he was forced to respond with suggested changes even as everyone looked to him to fix the problems.

“There were a number of pieces of the operation that we were able to identify needed to change,” he said. “The challenge was I didn’t have the authority under the current ordinance to make those changes. So, we had to run it through this clunky bureaucracy and it took a lot more time and frankly (it’s) a bureaucracy that didn’t spot these problems earlier and didn’t take any initiative to change these problems.”

Parisi outlined the changes he was seeking with his three appointees to the current 911 Center Board at an hour-long private meeting in his office Thursday afternoon.

After the meeting two of the attendees, Maple Bluff Fire Chief Joshua Ripp, who is the current chairman of the 911 Center Board, and Verona Police Chief Bernard Coughlin, called the meeting cordial, but are still concerned about removing the current board’s governing authority.

“The problem is if there’s a conflict between what we’re looking for, and what the county’s looking for, we’re not able to do anything about that,” Ripp said.

With the new emergency radio system DaneCom about to start, Coughlin fears first responders voices will be lost when making sure 911 calls for help are always answered.

“I can only predict that it’s going to be a hard pill for municipalities to swallow,” Coughlin said. “You have a vested interest in the communications center, a monetary investment in new equipment. And you no longer have a vote at the table.”

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said he is upset with the decision, but after checking with the city attorney there is nothing he can do to stop Parisi from moving forward if he receives the council’s approval.

“They will be within their legal rights. That doesn’t mean this system will work,” Soglin said.

Fitchburg Mayor Shawn Pfaff, a former member of the 911 Center Board, said in a text message to News 3, “It is disappointing to see the county use a go-at-it-alone approach on an issue as important as emergency response. Now, more than ever is collaboration needed to ensure public safety.”

Parisi said he was concerned that the current governing structure of the 911 Center doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country. However, in an online search News 3 found at least one other 911 Center, Charleston County in South Carolina, that is overseen in the same way as Dane County’s.

The policy change would need to be introduced by a supervisor in the form of a County Ordinance Amendment. It would have at least one public hearing before going before the full County Board for a vote.

Parisi said he wants to continue to hear from law enforcement, fire and EMS representatives throughout the county on 911 issues, including keeping the current board, but solely in an advisory capacity.

“We want their input but we want to have a very clear chain of command and ability to run the center the way it should be run,” Parisi said.