Dane Co. sheriff supports plan to gut first responder board

Many other law enforcement members oppose move
Dane Co. sheriff supports plan to gut first responder board

Dane Co. Sheriff Dave Mahoney surprised the county public protection and judiciary committee Tuesday, telling them he supports Executive Joe Parisi’s proposal to gut the first responder center board of its ability to make public safety communication decisions, which includes the overseeing the county’s 911 system.

“I think it’s important to because my name was attached to the memo along with the county executive,” Mahoney said.  “We’re not getting to the points that need to be addressed as quickly. And we’re not doing it because of the inability of the center board to govern and the county board who holds the purse strings.”

Mahoney was the lone supportive voice among a room of nearly 30 first responders Tuesday. Many of them said they want it publicly known they are fighting Parisi’s proposal.

“The Dane Co. Police chief’s association is adamantly opposed to this resolution,” association president and McFarland Police Chief Craig Sherven said. “The resolution has the appearance of being rushed through in a hasty and arguably unfair manner, giving communities and stakeholders almost no time to respond to it.”

“We are in strong opposition to the resolution,” said Dane Co. Fire Chief’s Association President Randall Pickering. He said the county executive had been disingenuous by using Milwaukee County as an example for what he is suggesting in Dane County.

“Milwaukee does have a countywide radio system that is shared by all the users,” Pickering said. “In the ordinance that created that radio system…it very clearly defines that this is a governance committee made up of the local municipalities, even though they’re not paying a penny toward that system.”

Currently, the 13-member first responder center board makes emergency communication decisions regarding budgets, complaints, and the county’s 911 system.  During the meeting, Parisi’s chief of staff Josh Wescott continued the executive’s “clunky bureaucracy” charge, saying the police, fire and EMS board members would be better suited to serve in an advisory role.

“The proposal that’s before you blends those constituencies into one body that will meet monthly to provide that consult and direction to the 911 center director and county staff,” Wescott said.

But McFarland Fire & EMS Chief Brad Bowen, who previously worked in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties, said his past experience shows Parisi’s idea will not work.

“We’d make recommendations as an advisory board to the 911 center. And they were never implemented because we we’re simply advisory. The answer was no,” Bowen said. 

“If we don’t have an avenue to work out change, lives may be lost and people may be hurt,” former Shorewood Hills Fire Chief Keith Anderson added.

“This agreement has worked well for years, and now it’s finally fallen apart this year when some difficulties in reaching some target times was identified, I think not.” Assistant Madison Fire Chief Clay Christianson said. 

Armed with a preliminary report the emergency response data processor Priority Dispatch Corporation had prepared, Center Board President Josh Ripp called into question Parisi’s accusation the board had been slow to respond to response time concerns.

Ripp shared the results showing, on average, Dane County response times were 1 minute and 46 seconds when the new system first went online, because address data was missing.

“And they talk about in there that in other places it takes 30 seconds to get there.” Ripp said.  “I was at the Center Board meeting that we discussed this. Whether we were ready to go live.  Brought up the question are we ready to go? Ready to go? Ready to go? And I was completely assured we’re ready to go live. ‘We’re ready to go.’ And according to this we weren’t. Bad information the Center Board was given.”

One of the committee members questioned the timing of Parisi’s proposal, since it falls during the budget approval time. Wescott said the move has nothing to do with holding first responder budget’s hostage.

Parisi has been invited to Wednesday’s Public Safety Communications Center Board meeting at 1 p.m. in City County Building room 321.