Sparks flying over 911 center

Controversy is swirling over the leadership of Pasco County’s 911 center, after a dispatcher mishandled an emergency call regarding a wrong-way driver on Interstate 75.

Pasco County commissioners also say that residents have reported instances of dropped calls or unanswered calls to the center.

“I think it’s gotten to the point we need to think outside the box,” Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore said during the commissioners’ March 29 meeting.

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco 

Despite additional staff members working at the center, Moore said, “There have been too many missteps.”

A solution could come at the commissioners’ April 12 meeting in Dade City, when the issue is expected to be reviewed again.

The center has been without a permanent director for about 18 months.

On two occasions, candidates backed away. One cited family related reasons. The other gave no reason.

The issue of who will lead the county’s emergency center has evolved into a tussle between Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker.

Baker and Nocco disagree over who should appoint the center’s leader, and how the county and sheriff’s office will divide responsibility for the center.

The county and the sheriff’s office began consolidating their emergency response operations into one center in 2013.

Nocco and Baker each fired off letters to the Pasco County commissioners after a sometimes heated discussion at the commissioners’ March 29 meeting.

At that meeting, Moore invited Nocco to present recommendations to be put to an immediate vote.

“We all want to find a solution,” Nocco said.

He proposed promoting Lt. Dan Olds to the position of director of the emergency center, and letting Pasco Fire & Rescue name one of its supervisors as assistant director.

Olds currently serves as the center’s assistant director for public safety communications, which includes the consolidated 911 center.

Jody Kenyon has served as acting director, pending the hiring of a permanent director. He began serving in October 2014, soon after Dona Fernandes resigned from the job.

Baker objected to Nocco’s proposal. She said the matter “needs a more detailed conversation.”

Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader backed Baker.

“This is an important issue,” he said. “There’s a lot of us that haven’t had the benefit of all the facts.”

Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey agreed that a vote should not be taken on something commissioners have not seen.

Schrader urged Nocco to meet with Baker to discuss the matter.

Nocco said his staff members would meet with Baker, but he would not.

“When trust is an issue, that’s a problem,” Nocco said.

Nocco sent a letter two days later to Starkey and the board, again laying out his solution.

Nocco’s letter states that he has met with Baker multiple times on the issue and “she has failed to provide any solutions for the Center.”

Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker

Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker

On March 31, Baker sent a lengthy letter to the commissioners, responding to Nocco and outlining three options for hiring a director for the emergency center.

In her letter, Baker objected to what she characterized as the sheriff’s “inaccuracies and half-truths.”

Baker states there haven’t been multiple meetings, and Nocco’s refusal to meet with her are what have prompted issues about trust.

“I am concerned that his delegates are either misunderstanding or misrepresenting our conversations,” Baker wrote.

Baker contends that Olds doesn’t meet minimum requirements established by the center’s consolidation board.

Baker also notified commissioners that she was removing Kenyon as acting director. He remains as technical services manager. She appointed newly-hired Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie to take on additional duties as acting public safety communications director.

In her letter, Baker noted that Guthrie supervised both emergency management and emergency communications in Flagler County before being hired by Pasco.

In a second letter to commissioners, dated April 1, Nocco gave “conditional acceptance” to Guthrie, if he is appointed permanently and serves solely as the center’s director.

Baker is expected to recommend three options on April 12.

  • The county has full responsibility for the center, with the county administrator hiring the director, with commission approval.
  • The sheriff hires a director and takes responsibility of the center. The county would appoint the assistant director, and set up an enterprise budget to track expenditures.
  • The center would be under control of the Consolidated Communications Board, which would select an executive director and other management positions. Employees and support services would be under contract with the county.

Baker also noted: “I remain willing to transfer responsibility and authority of the entire (Consolidated Communications Center) to the Sheriff, if that is the Board’s desire.”

Published April 13, 2016

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