Withdrawal would mean the end of the Public Safety Communications agreement made in 2011.
Both the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Ocala have asked to withdraw from the county’s consolidated 911 center, just days after a consultant suggested all parties give management time to iron out the issues.
The moves irked some Marion County commissioners, who discussed the matter during their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday. But commissioners also acknowledged that a lack of oversight on the county’s part contributed to the breakdown in trust.
Public Safety Communications came online after a 2011 agreement to have the county oversee the 911 center, which would take and dispatch calls for the Sheriff’s Office, Marion County Fire Rescue and Ocala Fire Rescue. The Ocala Police Department kept its dispatch center.
On Sept. 17, Mission Critical Partners, the consultant hired by the county, found that both the county and the Ocala police communications centers were doing well, but a lack of communication between the agencies was the biggest sticking point.
Despite the recommendation for a pause, the sheriff and the city moved quickly to start the termination process, which will not take effect until 2020.
On Sept. 24, a letter signed by Sheriff Billy Woods noted that there is mistrust of the management and oversight of Public Safety Communications.
“These issues (have) really only resulted in one thing and that is a shortfall of the service to our citizens, which is unacceptable in my eyes,” the letter states.
On Sept. 26, the city sent its letter rescinding the suspension of its initial notice to withdraw from the county center made in February. The city contends the initial “failures” it cited for withdrawal continue.
“It’s just very disappointing that both couldn’t just put the brakes on and go with the consultant’s recommendation. You know, to just take a step back and take a break,” Commissioner Kathy Bryant said during Tuesday’s commission meeting.
Complaints include missed 911 calls and medical units sent to the wrong addresses. While the county investigated specific incidents and traced the problems back to miscommunication between the county and Ocala police centers, the reasons did little to smooth over the hard feelings.
Commissioner Carl Zalak pointed out that Public Safety Communications is accredited while the OPD communications center is not.
“Our people every day are meeting the standards and achieving them and surpassing the accreditation. At the same time, I don’t know how you call us out when the City of Ocala is not accredited and doesn’t have any standards to be upheld to,” Zalak said.
Commission Chairwoman Michelle Stone said they have plenty of fault in the pending collapse of the partnership.
“Unfortunately, I think we failed in making that happen as the lead agency. So now, we are in the process of trying to build trust with our partners,” she said.
Adding to the discord, a change in Public Safety Communications management was possibly another source of friction. In January, the county center went from being a county department to one directed by Marion County Fire Rescue. Universally, interagency friction is not uncommon.
While Woods made his intent to leave the partnership in the letter clear, he also signaled in a subsequent meeting with Stone and County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes that an expanded sheriff’s role in the county center could bring a compromise.
“As much as he is not happy with the arrangement. I think he was willing to continue to be part of the PSC, but he wants some authority and management responsibility over the dispatch unit, the unit that does the dispatching for law enforcement,” Bouyounes said.
Bryant said operations are currently running smoothly.
“There have been a lot of changes that have been made over the course of the last six months over at our communications center. The reports that we’re getting, the number are reflecting the fine job everyone over there is doing,” she said.
Bouyounes said that still might not be enough. “When you have a partnership there needs to be a buy-in from everyone if there is no buy-in the partnership is destined to fail,” he said.
The Ocala City Council plans a workshop to continue discussing the issue next week. The county plans to hold its workshop on Oct. 29 and plans to invite the City Council to attend.