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Silence kills central dispatch idea

By Dennis Minich

It has been penned “No man is an island”. However, during the Dec. 19 Cass County Emergency Services Board (CCESB) meeting, board member Doug Stark appeared to be an island unto himself as he argued the merits of a central dispatching building for all police and fire departments in the county.

The December meeting was moved to the Sheriff’s Department conference room to accommodate the crowd of about 40 people plus reporters and camera personnel from several media outlets, including TV stations from Kansas City.

The idea was first presented at the board’s November meeting and the idea was to build the central dispatch building to replace the five current Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) in the county. Emergency calls are currently routed through land lines or cell towers to answering centers in Harrisonville, Belton, Raymore, Pleasant Hill or the Cass County Sheriff’s Office. A few fire districts are dispatched by Lee’s Summit. On occasion, calls can be sent to the wrong PSAP which raises concerns about delays in dispatches in emergencies.

Stark is not affiliated with any emergency agencies in Cass County, but is a firefighter in Grandview. He is also the husband of Peculiar Mayor Holly Stark. At the November meeting, a motion was made by Belton Fire Chief Norman Larkey, and seconded by Stark, to begin plans for the centralized building. The motion was denied because it had not been prepared by legal counsel and it was recommended that “a motion of this magnitude should appear on the next month’s agenda.” Stark’s comments followed public input from seven citizens, six of whom opposed the measure. The agenda item was read and before a motion was made to act on it, Stark said he had a statement to be “read into the record.”

He then read a three-page statement saying when voters approved a one-half cent sales tax in 2012, they expected to see a central dispatch center.

“My motive was simple, to fulfill a promise that was made to the voters and deliver a more effective, efficient and forward-looking centralized 911 dispatching system for the tax-paying public. I am morally obligated to make sure a promise that was made to the voters in 2012 is kept,” he said.

Following the November meeting, the five governing bodies of PSAP facilities wrote letters to the board expressing disapproval. Included in their complaints was the attempt to “blindside” them by acting on a plan without consulting those affected.

Stark said those letters represented “deliberate misinformation that has been provided to the media by PSAP agencies.”

“It was stated that PSAPs were blindsided by this. The voters approved centralized dispatch six and one-half years ago. This board has been discussing this for the one and one-half years I have been on the board. This should have already been done. State statute requires that Central Dispatch of Emergency Services be operational within three years of sales tax collection,” he said

The board was established to collect tax dollars for emergency communications in the county. About $15 million has been raised to build a network of towers and communications equipment has been purchased for first responders in the county. The bonds on the project will be paid off in 2019 and the tax falls back to one-eighth of a cent if there are no new capital projects.

The CCESB has been working to establish a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system which will link the PSAPs, creating a virtual command center. Cass County Sheriff Jeff Weber said the system should be operational in January.

Stark criticized members of the board since they represent PSAP organizations.

“The only people this would be costing are the PSAP managers that repeatedly vote on this board and send hundreds of thousands of dollars to their own operations. Members of this board vote to send money to the operations for which they are responsible without even abstaining from the vote. It’s my belief that the actions by this board are, undoubtedly, highly unethical,” Stark said.

He added he did not speak to the media because he did not want to contribute to the unfair portrayals of a dysfunctional or inept governing body.

“The misinformation campaign and appeal to the media has placed an unnecessary black eye on our county,” he said.

Upon completion, Stark’s comments were rebutted by Board Chairman Chris Turnbow, the mayor of Raymore.

“I don’t know where to start with the innuendos and inaccuracies in that statement. I had proposed a one-quarter cent tax to take back to the community, but I doubt that would pass now that you have muddied the waters.

“It was never sold as a brick and mortar building. It was always clearly about virtual consolidation. For you to have come on this board a year and one-half ago and say we are not doing a good job is simply reprehensible,” Turnbow said.

Others were prepared to comment, but it was noted an official motion on the resolution had never been made. Stark made the motion but no one seconded it, so it failed.

The entire board was present. Besides Stark, Turnbow, Weber and Larkey, the other members are Roger Mayberry, captain with the Raymore Police Department; Karen Steele and Max Schmoll.

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