items tagged with SECC
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Late last year, I published a commentary on the questionable policy implementation by the Scott County Board of Supervisors, at the request of staff, to indiscriminately destroy e-mails more than three years old, beginning January 2, 2014 (RCReader.com/y/email1).This new policy was implemented in the wake of Assistant County Administrator Mary Thee issuing a memo to county employees about the increase of public inquiries and litigation requesting e-mail messages.
In the spirit of practicing what I was preaching, namely getting one’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in before the January 2 date (despite the county administrator extolling that her staff has been practicing said deleting for some time), I submitted a FOIA request about a topic this paper has covered more extensively than any local news outlet: the Scott County Emergency Communications Center, a.k.a. SECC911. (See RCReader.com/y/foia1 and RCReader.com/y/foia2.)
Keep in mind that the SECC911 project is important because it was sold to the taxpayers as a cost-saver, only to have its costs more than quadruple the original estimates, ballooning to more than $20 million. And the entity that was created under a 28E, or “emergency services” statute, is made up of un-elected appointees, who possess unlimited, or un-capped, taxing authority. I am still amazed at how few people are familiar, let alone concerned, with this black hole that flies completely under the radar. And, lest we forget, years later we still don’t have a consolidated 911 dispatch service.
This request was e-mailed to the Scott County Board of Supervisors as well as Administrator Dee Bruemmer. Below is the text of that request, and the response from Assistant County Attorney Robert Cusack. For those paying close attention, yes, Cusack is the son of William Cusack, one of the supervisors this FOIA request was directed to.
Read More About The Cost Of Freedom Of Information...
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
This issue’s article on the Scott Emergency Communications Center (SECC) further illustrates government overreach run amok, beginning with our state legislators. State law (Iowa Code 28E) enabled the creation of the Scott Emergency Communications Center, an intergovernmental agency composed of five separate entities: the Scott County Emergency Management Agency, Scott County, the cities of Davenport and Bettendorf, and Medic EMS. Funding SECC is enabled through more state legislation (Iowa Code 29C) that provided for an unelected board as a brand-new taxing authority, with no limit on how much it may levy. And, as the details emerge, SECC gets to operate with no oversight whatsoever.
Let us never forget that the SECC was sold to Scott County taxpayers as a 7,800-square-foot building to consolidate emergency dispatching and enhance 911 service, saving taxpayers money along the way. The Bettendorf City Council barely passed the measure to join this scheme, approving it 4-3 in December 2007. The intergovernmental agreement that formalized this financial boondoggle specifically dictates that all decisions shall be guided by the 2006 CTA Communications consolidation study. So how did CTA’s 7,800 square feet balloon into 27,000 square feet by February 2009?
The dismissal by SECC Director Brian Hitchcock and Scott County Administrator Dee Bruemmer of the very study that is to guide their decision-making, as the intergovernmental agreement dictates, stands as testimony that citizens need to be very concerned, and extremely vigilant. Such dismissal suggests that there was never any real intention to follow CTA’s recommendations to begin with. This is further evidenced by Hitchcock’s claim of good stewardship by reducing the original architectural design from a 36,000-square-foot facility to 27,000 square feet.
Read More About More Governments Gone Wild...
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Category: Feature Stories
Leaders in the consolidation of Scott County emergency dispatch and record-keeping claim a number of benefits: that it has been and will be a good deal for taxpayers; that it has resulted in better interdepartmental communications between emergency responders; and that it will eventually reduce the amount of time between when an emergency call is made and when appropriate personnel are dispatched.
But is it, as originally advertised, saving money?
The answer to that question depends on how you look at it, but for property owners in Scott County, the bottom line is that their tax rates are higher as a direct and indirect result of the consolidation.
The Scott County overall tax-levy rate rose by 90 cents per $1,000 of valuation in Fiscal Year 2011, as the levy for emergency management rose from 5 cents to $1.05 – nearly all of which is funding consolidated emergency dispatch. Scott County dropped its levy rate outside of emergency management, and Davenport and Bettendorf have also lowered their property-tax rates, but the net financial effect of consolidation has been property-tax rates that are anywhere from 65 cents to 90 cents higher depending on where one lives.
Read More About Study Vs. Reality: Why Consolidated Dispatch In Scott County Won’T Save Money...
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
To my amazement, nearly every time I mention the new SECC911, I find residents have no idea that we have consolidated multiple jurisdictions’ emergency dispatching and law-enforcement record-keeping into a single new building and operation. What a shame. Especially because the Scott Emergency Communications Center (SECC) is now the county’s second-largest budget item, and is funded using a newly established “no cap” taxing authority. This means taxpayers can be endlessly tapped for any and all of the SECC’s funding needs without consent from our elected county and city representatives.
Thanks to emergency-management legislation called “28E” passed by the Iowa legislature and signed into law by former Governor Chet Culver, our local governments ceded authority for a critical component of public-safety services to an independent, unelected board that is answerable to no one, least of all the people who pay for it. The SECC is a classic example of government run amok.
Eldridge resident Diane Holst, a civic hero by any standard, has followed the SECC from its inception. She is so far ahead of the game in terms of knowledge, and connecting the dots, that she shames the supervisors, and even staff, with her inquiries, often evidenced by their inability to competently respond.
Scott County is lucky to have Ms. Holst. Because if you think your elected representatives are managing the business of the county, think again. The vast majority of the elected leaders are clueless about the details of how the taxpayers’ money is being spent. This is evidenced by merely attending any board meeting. County staff is more than happy to perpetuate this arrangement, because it leaves them free to spend tax dollars with impunity. It certainly explains why the staff nearly always gets a pass on incomplete, vague explanations when Ms. Holst presents common-sense, relevant questions.
The institutional laziness, incompetence, and never-saw-a-new-taxing-authority-I-didn’t-love/let-me-rubber-stamp-that-budget mentality of our elected supervisors is embarrassing at best, infuriating at worst. In the October 13 SECC Board meeting, County Board and SECC Board Chair Tom Sunderbruch could not contain his rudeness toward Ms. Holst when she voiced her concerns over safety issues. She suggested that an apology to our law enforcement was in order from the SECC Board for their previous dismissive attitudes with regard to the rank-and-file’s concerns about the new SECC system – concerns that are absolutely founded, as this issue’s cover story illustrates. “If you read the open-meetings law of Iowa,” Sunderbruch stated, “we don’t have to allow you to speak. So unless you have something new to say, we’ve heard enough.”
Technically, Sunderbruch is correct. And therein lies part of the problem. The only time the public is mandated an opportunity to address these supposed stewards of our tax dollars is during a public hearing for such items as bonding for debt to pay for no-bid contracts for radios costing taxpayers millions. Sunderbruch’s reaction to Holst’s well-documented concerns exposes his inferior understanding of the issues that have plagued the SECC – an unacceptable demeanor from such a leader, considering the magnitude of SECC.
Bettendorf Alderwoman and mayoral candidate Patricia Melinee expressed her concerns in 2007 over the loss of city jurisdiction over dispatching if the county controls the funds. Her concerns were dismissed by most as “overwrought,” when she should be commended for proactive problem-solving. And then-Davenport Alderman Keith Meyer, in an attempt to engage the split Bettendorf council (which voted 4-3 to join SECC) in a dialogue prior to a vote, was called “out of order” by then-County Board Chair Jim Hancock, and the vote was rushed through.
Does one size fit all? Is consolidation of government services among multiple jurisdictions efficient? In theory, perhaps. But the SECC is a newly created government entity, different from any other in Scott County and dangerously unaccountable to the taxpayers, therefore highly susceptible to ballooning out of control relative to expenses and/or scope of services.
Consider that, before it opened its doors, the project was sold to the taxpayers as a cost savings of nearly $5 million over 20 years, with a $2-million, 6,000-square-foot building. That’s how it was advertised. But that’s not what taxpayers got. The project exploded into a $7.3-million, 27,500-square-foot building, with equipment, radios, and software ratcheting up the price tag to $28 million, just for starters.
The study used to justify the project to the public is now being heralded by the administrators as “flawed,” and merely “a guideline.” Never mind those terms were referred to in the intergovernmental agreement as governing the project, via a commissioned study that specified the SECC. This is a typical bureaucratic ploy, and only works when the public isn’t paying attention and sworn elected officers shirk their duties.
Scott County residents have no one to blame but themselves. We have behaved like absentee landlords and/or managers when all of this went down. And clearly employees do not respect what management does not inspect.
If you want to engage and begin inspecting what your SECC government is doing, start by going to YouTube.com/ScottIFATV and watch the SECC videos posted there. And you can contact the SECC board members by going to SECC911.org/secc/secc_board.php. Lastly, the SECC Board meets at 5:30 p.m. the third Thursday of every month on the first floor of the county building. The next meeting is November 17.
It can be argued that the biggest contributing factor to America’s decline is the virtual collapse of public oversight of our own governments, which has led to government employees at every level – whether local, state, or federal – into behaving like they are the bosses of us and not the other way around.
Unaccountability on the part of our public servants is the root problem plaguing our nation, and civic disengagement is 110-percent responsible. We are fast becoming impotent as a citizenry, allowing rule-making to supersede common law, and doing nothing while our local, state, and federal public servants usurp our liberties under dozens of false pretenses, but most especially under the guise of safety and/or security.
Meanwhile, already entrenched bureaucracies grow ever larger, taking more and more control unto themselves over individuals’ use and enjoyment of private property, combining services and creating multiple or intergovernmental jurisdictions of administrative structure that use rule-making to insulate and protect their so-called public-sector fiefdoms – fiefdoms we the people pay for but have no say in.
If not for your own future, then do your children/grandchildren a favor and attend your local county and city meetings on a more regular basis. City-council meetings can be viewed at home on cable TV. Listen, learn, and engage. No resident gets a pass on civic participation these days. There is no excuse for doing nothing, anymore.
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Category: Feature Stories
(This is the first of two articles on the Scott Emergency Communications Center. This piece focuses on implementation problems with emergency-response consolidation. The second part will deal with the price tag and to what extent taxpayers have gotten what they were promised.)
Let’s start with the metaphors.
We’re roughly six months into the transition to a consolidated Scott County emergency-dispatch and -records system, said Davenport City Administrator Craig Malin on October 6. “This is the part of the movie where ... the anxiety is. Then there’s the resolution at the end, and there’s a happy ending. We’re at that point where we’re going to be focusing on what the issues are.”
“In a crawl/walk/run category, we stood up and got wobbly,” said Bettendorf City Administrator Decker Ploehn, also on October 6. “But we’re still standing. But we’re not walking yet. But we’re pretty much not crawling, either. So we’re working our way forward, and we hope to get to running. And I think we’re going to get to running; we’re not there yet.”
The Scott Emergency Communications Center (SECC) brings under one roof – at 1100 East 46th Street in Davenport – what had been four dispatching centers, serving Scott County’s 12 municipal and county law-enforcement agencies, 16 fire departments, and five ambulance services.
All those agencies are now using the same radio system, and law-enforcement agencies are also using a single record-keeping system – both of which allow for improved interdepartmental communication. Agencies went live with the system from early April through early May.
Still to come – probably early next year – is the consolidation of each organization’s dispatchers into a single dispatching entity, and the separation of call-taking and dispatching functions. The latter of those is expected to shave 30 seconds off the time it takes to dispatch emergency responders.
And late next year, Medic EMS will decide whether to fold its dispatching operations into SECC or just continue to have its dispatchers working out of the SECC building.
By the standards of local government, the project is complicated. “It takes a good solid year to iron out” issues and difficulties, said SECC Director Brian Hitchcock, who previously oversaw consolidations in Ashland County, Wisconsin, and McHenry County, Illinois. “Every one of those has issues and bugs that have to be worked out. ... We all wish it could happen overnight.” He noted that every consolidation takes a different amount of time to work through, but that the one-year estimate runs through next April.
The consolidation – recommended by a 2006 study and put into motion by a December 2007 intergovernmental agreement – is also expensive, with capital costs of roughly $28 million. The building itself cost $7.31 million. New portable radios for all agencies cost almost $7 million, purchased without a formal bidding process. Installing a “central electronics bank and associated communications gear into and around the 911 center” cost more than $1.6 million, Hitchcock said. And the dispatching and record-keeping software that has been so problematic cost $2.7 million.
Read More About 911 Whitewash? Leaders Say The Transition To Consolidated Emergency Dispatch In Scott County Has Gone Well. It Should Have Gone Better....
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