BY BRIAN JONES
COLUMBUS – At its May 1 meeting, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to dissolve the E911 board and to combine the old E911 and Emergency Management agencies into the newly minted Lowndes County Emergency Services department.
The move came after several weeks of drama beginning in early April, when six dispatchers all called in sick. The issue began with a recommendation from the 911 Board, which is an autonomous board appointed by the board of supervisors, asking the supervisors to approve a raise as part of an effort to slow turnover. The lowest pay was raised to $11.50 an hour, with plans to go to $12 in the new budget year. Existing dispatchers will get raises, with the highest going to $12.50 an hour. All of the dispatchers would get a raise when the new budget year starts in Oct. 1.
On April 10 and 11 six dispatchers called in sick, and it is not clear whether this was part of an organized “sick-out” or a coincidence. The supervisors clearly felt that the incident was planned, and the E911 Board, which had already voted once not to fire the dispatchers, was told to address the problem. The dispatchers were all told to sign a Memorandum of Understanding that similar incidents would not happen again. Although there were a few holdouts originally, by a special 911 Board meeting last Friday all of the dispatchers had done so. The board elected not to take further disciplinary action at that meeting.
This didn’t sit well with the board of supervisors, and, Monday morning, they voted to dissolve the 911 Board
District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham made the motion, seconded by District 3 Supervisor John Holliman. District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith said he was against the move.
“I don’t think there’s a need,” Smith said. “I haven’t heard anything that suggests it should be.”
“I didn’t make the motion or the second, but I do have something that I need to say,” said District 1 Supervisor and President Harry Sanders. “I asked (E911 board member Keith Worshaim) what changes they would make to keep what happened last time from ever happening again. He didn’t give me a very good answer. In my mind I don’t think that board is a functional board and is doing their job.”
“I’m not saying that we won’t get there,” Smith responded. “I am saying that we haven’t done enough in-depth research. I would like to see this board convene a subcommittee and get some key shareholders from each entity that is involved, and make recommendations to this board. Again, we may end up exactly where we are, but I just haven’t heard enough to support it.”
The supervisors voted to dissolve the E911 board 4-1, with Smith casting the dissenting vote. The board had existed for about 20 years.
They then went into executive session for about 20 minutes to discuss personnel issues.
When they returned to open session, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks made a motion to combine E911 and Lowndes Emergency Management Agency into one organization, Lowndes County Emergency Services, which will be managed by current EMA director Cindy Lawrence. She will receive a salary of $65,000, which is an increase of about $14,000 from her salary as EMA director. It was not immediately clear what would become of E911 Director Shalonda Givens.
The motion was, again, approved 4-1, with Smith voting no.
Both E911 and EMA are in the new approximately $2 million E911 center located adjacent to the Lowndes County Courthouse.
E911 Board Member Eric Thomas, who was also a candidate for the city council race, said that he thought the supervisors were making a mistake.
“I think that wasn’t the right decision,” he said. “We made a decision based on the facts. The facts just didn’t say what everybody thought. We made decisions, we got every dispatcher to sign that form and we were satisfied with that action. We were looking forward to making more changes to the policy.
“Now you’re putting (the supervisors) over everything,” he said. “We were established to govern the 911 board, and in the almost four years I’ve been on that board I think we’ve done a great job. I think the director was doing a great job. We made a decision not to fire them and stuck with that decision, and to just come in and take over is the wrong decision.”
The board members were Chris Griffin from District 2; Rodney Sullivan for District 3; Eric Thomas for District 4; and Keith Worshaim from District 5. The District 1 slot was empty after the appointee resigned.