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911 Combined Comm Breakup on Hold -  DePratter Puts on the Heat, Sheriff Hunter Backs Down  Pt II

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Part I of this story found Commissioners Sylvester "Bucky" Nash and Ronald Williams ready to put the cleaver to the County's Combined Communications Center, undoing the work began in 2007, because Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter, who recently characterized himself as "The Tip of the Spear," has difficulties getting along if he doesn't get his way. In the end, Commissioner Rusty DePratter put the heat on the Sheriff. Sheriff Hunter walked the breakup back.

Commissioner Nash: "I will help with the breakup of the call center"

Part I ended with Commissioner Nash recommending that the County finance the breakup of the call center by giving Sheriff Hunter his own dispatch for a year, "to see how it works out."

Commissioner Nash volunteered to help with the breakup of the call center and opined that the County Manager didn't need to be involved. "I will help you and you [Hunter and Brazil]. I don't think Ben [County Manager Ben Scott] needs to be in there," he said.

The County Charter has a non interference clause which does not permit County Commissioners to get involved in the day to day business of the County.

The Sheriff Begins to Change His Tune

A minute later Sheriff Hunter told The 5, "I don't think we need to do the chop right now... Let's assign someone out there from the Sheriff's Office. I'll do that."

Sheriff Hunter again referred to the 2007 Kimball report, failing to mention that the report found that the Call Center did just about nothing right.

Sheriff Hunter then characterized the interlocal agreement between the County, City, and the Sheriff's Office as a "behind the scenes thing, a technical agreement that should just be that."

It is not clear if anybody knew what the Sheriff was talking about, as all parties contributed to the agreement. None of The 5 asked for an explanation.

Sheriff Hunter then opined that there should be a "working relationship: mutual respect and etiquette with one another. It's not a them and an us."

Sheriff Hunter said he should not have to bear the brunt of the cost of the Call Center breakup because in 2009, the Sheriff's Office contributed to the Combined Call Center.

He said, "We were there for the grow out. The money that's bein' based on us is pretty much from 09, when you think about it.... Should we not receive some growth money?"

Hunter Was Beginning to Rub the Commissioners the Wrong Way

Commissioners Nash and Williams opined, "We wouldn't be at this meeting if you didn't want your own dispatch."

Commissioner DePratter, referring to the agreement wherein Sheriff Hunter automatically gets 39% of most of the County revenue, said, "The 39% is your growth. The 39% is your growth money. You get growth money just like we do."

Commissioner Williams added that he liked Commissioner Nash's suggestion about trying the transition for a year.

DePratter: the Question That Changed It All

Commissioner DePratter addressed Chairman Murphy, "Can I ask one question?"

Chairman Murphy responded, "I'm ready."

Commissioner DePratter leaned into his microphone:  "Are you willin' to fix what we have, or are you gonna' break it up? It's a yes or no question. Then I'll know where I wanna' go. You gave us a list of stuff."

Sheriff Hunter:  "I've always been willin' to do that, Commissioner." (DePratter tried to talk, but Hunter over talked him.)

Sheriff Hunter: "And that's one of the things that bothered me most about this dispatch... I put my heart and soul into trying to put that together and I took a heck of a beaten'..."

Sheriff Hunter complained, enlisting his usual refrain of "everybody's always pickin' on me."

Commissioner DePratter: "I have a different view. My view is I thought we were goin' to have a little negotiatin' period. I would love to see the Sheriff and Tom work out the list the Sheriff just provided. I do see a list now... Instead of spendin' the kind of money you're fixin' to spend, why can't we have one Sheriff's Office employee out there 24 hours a day, over seein' your operation? That's it. If he's there to represent you and all the dispatchers are trained just like you want em'. That's what I see."

Commissioner DePratter said, "I'm just not ready to break it up. I think we need to put the effort we need to put into it."

Mr. Brazil weighed in:  "I really believe that a good first step would be for the Sheriff to assign somebody out there that knows somethin' about dispatch just to evaluate and see what changes, if any, what training, if any; what needs to be done. What needs to be recommended... I am more than willin' to make whatever changes they wanna' make to make it function. I'm a 100% with you. Let's make it work."

Commissioner Williams said, "I think that would be concrete recommendations."

Mr. Brazil replied, "We're not talkin' about little instances, we're talkin' about procedural and policy changes."

Commissioner Williams followed up, "That's what it need[s] to be."

County Manager Ben Scott
"The Interlocal Should Be the Starting Point"

County Manager Scott weighed in: "What Commissioner DePratter said a little while ago. I agree 100%. I've never seen a need to separate it [the Sheriff] out. Fix the problem. There's an interlocal agreement. Whether the City's in it or not, we still have an interlocal agreement in place... You can modify that interlocal agreement. To me, that should be your starting point... I offered that before."

Chairman Murphy weighed in (as spoken), "I'm not voting on nothin' unless I know for a fact unless all the constituents that use these services will not be detrimented."

Commissioner DePratter Wraps It Up

Commissioner DePratter leaned into his microphone and said, "I make a motion that we get the Sheriff and Tom, and Bucky said he'd sit there, and I'd like for them to try and work it out and try and resolve our current issues and keepin' the 911 system together and come back to the Board in a month or two -- whatever it takes."

Commissioner Williams asked the Sheriff if this was just temporary until the jail was built.

Sheriff Hunter said, "I'm sayin' if we can make it work as is, I'm OK with that..."

The motion passed unanimously.

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