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BC Commissioners’ Conduct Questioned

February 6, 2013

Bonnie Jo Hanson/Times-Record Barnes County Commissioners (l. to r.) Eldred Knutson, John Froelich and Rodger Berntson during Tuesday’s meeting. Commissioners discussed ongoing transition plans for the 9-1-1 dispatch center.

The Barnes County Commissioners discussed a complaint about a 9-1-1 call and its handling by some members of the commission during its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Commissioner Eldred Knutson received a copy of an e-mail complaint regarding a 9-1-1 dispatcher’s professionalism. According to Knutson, he heard a tape of the call and an internal investigation had already been done by Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson, who supervises the 9-1-1 dispatch center. Thompson handled the issue in-house according to Knutson.

According to commissioner John Froelich, he also heard the tape, and didn’t agree with Knutson regarding the nature of the dispatcher’s demeanor during the call. Froelich also pointed out that he never received a copy of the e-mail complaint nor did commissioner Phil Leitner, according to Leitner. Neither were included in discussions regarding the issue.

“I think there’s five commissioners here, not three,” said Froelich referring to commissioners who had knowledge of the e-mail.

“As far as I’m concerned, there are five commissioners who need to be involved in this. That’s pretty close to an open meeting, if three commissioners are going to be discussing something, they probably should include the other two,” Froelich added, referring to the fact that three out of five commissioners is a quorum and is subject to the North Dakota Century Code pertaining to open meeting laws. An open meeting requires public notification and members of the public may not be barred from the proceedings. Usually, only government meetings regarding matters of termination (for school boards) or litigation may be held as closed meetings.

“As far as professionalism goes, there’s people on the commission, there are people who are department heads in the county who have made some pretty unprofessional statements about Valley City and the police department,” Froelich continued.

Barnes County Emergency Manager Kim Franklin presented her proposed 9-1-1 transition plan during Tuesday’s meeting. The proposal addressed logistics, relocation and staffing. It also included a timeline for transition.

Franklin began by addressing equipment needs. The dispatch center’s antiquated equipment needs to be replaced before the county is comfortable with moving the dispatch center to another location.

The commission had several options, including operating under a joint powers agreement with Stutsman and Richland Counties or entering a memorandum of understanding with Red River Regional Dispatch Center.

To hook up with Red River would cost approximately $132,000 for equipment but upgrade costs would not be shared with Red River and would have to be done at Red River’s Request.

The joint powers agreement with Stutsman and Richland Counties would cost about $152,000, but updates would be shared between the three entities.

The commission voted to enter into the joint powers agreement with Stutsman and Richland Counties. The cost would include two dispatch stations and the equipment necessary to operate. Another advantage to entering the joint powers agreement is that it would allow for 9-1-1 back-up from either of the two entities, in case a connection is disrupted with the other.

Leitner voted against the joint powers agreement.

The commission also discussed the new location of the 9-1-1 dispatch center. The intent has been for the 9-1-1 dispatch center to be moved to an secure location within the Law Enforcement Center.

Barnes County has paid Valley City $9,000 per year to lease space for the Barnes County Sheriff’s Department. The lease has not been re-negotiated since 1996. To move the dispatch center would increase the county’s space needs.

Valley City, in a recent meeting of city commissioners, increased the lease amount to $18,000 per year, but during the county meeting, Valley City Commissioner Mary Lee Nielson informed the county that the city was willing to rent the facility for $15,000 per year.

Knutson believes that the sheriff’s department may eventually need to be moved to the county courthouse citing an increased need for security. He also said that the Law Enforcement Building has problems with lead contamination, and depending on clean up efforts, it may be necessary to move the sheriff’s department as well as the dispatch to another location. He pointed out a few building in the city that are available.
Froelich told the commission he believed the sheriff’s department should stay where it is, he believes it is important to have a joint law enforcement effort.

The county commission voted to approve the lease, contingent on approval of other terms of the lease.

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