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Dispatchers balk at moving
The sheriff has kept jobs open for city dispatchers in the event of a merger, but none has applied.
By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
Published December 16, 2007
[Maurice Rivenbark | Times]
Sheriff Richard Nugent has directed his staff to begin screening other applicants.
BROOKSVILLE - Looking for ways to cut spending, the City Council this summer began considering whether to combine its police and fire dispatch services with those of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
The move, proponents say, could save the city nearly $200,000 per year while also providing more security for officers, more efficient dispatching for citizens and better communications among the first responders to emergencies.
Council members were unanimous in telling the staff to go forward in exploring the option, and a vote on a merger is expected in the coming weeks.
City officials have made it clear from the outset that they wanted the city's five full-time dispatchers and one part timer to be considered for jobs at the sheriff's dispatch center if the merger got the green light. Sheriff Richard Nugent agreed, and for months he has left four dispatcher positions open in anticipation of the merger being approved. He said he expected to receive applications from Brooksville employees, but none has applied.
If they don't do it immediately, as the mayor, a council member and the police chief have advised, they may lose out: The sheriff has directed his staff to begin screening other applicants.
Depending on who is telling the story, the churning behind the scenes at the department involves the dispatchers being misled by a disgruntled officer, lingering bad feelings toward former chief Ed Tincher, a zealous City Council member accused of violating the Sunshine Law or even fears that the merger is merely the first step toward disbanding the entire Brooksville Police Department.
Nugent and City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha both talk about the many positives the merger offers.
Brooksville police units for the first time would be tracked by the same global positioning satellite system that now monitors deputies. Dispatchers would always know their location, and it would mean more efficient dispatching and officer security.
Consolidation would also allow police officers, deputies and dispatchers to talk directly to one another without switching radio frequencies, cutting precious seconds off communications in times of emergency.
"From an operational standpoint, I don't see any cons," Nugent said.
Norman-Vacha said there are still some issues to be ironed out, but she sees consolidation as saving money and improving service. She also sought to quash any rumors that the merger would lead to the elimination of the entire department.
"This is in no way an attempt to remove the city of Brooksville's identity or a move toward removing the city's police department," she said.
For months, there have been only positive public comments about the consolidation. But at the Dec. 3 council meeting, Brooksville dispatcher Patrick Hramika read a letter urging the board to kill the idea.
His message to the council was that they should consider the many years of loyal service by their dispatchers, the extra services they provide and the small savings the city would realize as they made their decision.
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The next day, City Council member Lara Bradburn ran into Nugent at an event. Nugent asked her why none of the city's dispatchers had applied for the four full-time positions he has left vacant for them. Bradburn was surprised, and she decided to talk to the dispatchers and urge them to apply.
Bradburn said she told the dispatchers that, based on the City Council's previous votes and comments on the subject, the members seemed unanimously in favor of the consolidation.
She also noted that another member of the police department had been saying the merger would not occur, but she advised them not to let that person's opinion keep them from applying to the sheriff's office.
"I think there was a ranking member of the force who didn't favor the change and didn't see the advantages of the change and therefore he wasn't encouraging people to embrace the change," Bradburn said. "I'm hoping that situation has been remedied."
Others portray Bradburn's visit in a much different light.
Dispatch supervisor Ronald Gossett and Hramika both wrote memos to Police Chief George Turner detailing her visit. Hramika accused Bradburn of being belligerent, arrogant and disrespectful to Lt. Rick Hankins.
Noting that Bradburn had said the council would vote 5-0 in favor of the merger, Hramika questioned how she would have known that unless she had spoken to the other members, which would violate the state's Government-in-the Sunshine Law.
He added that Bradburn was upset with him because of the letter he read to the council and because he was an ally of Tincher's. He asked the chief to bar Bradburn from the dispatch area when he was on duty.
Bradburn disputes that her tone was as Hramika described it, but she did say she was trying to get an important point across, that time was running out for them to apply.
She told them that the City Council's support for the idea until now has been unanimous in votes at public meetings.
"I did it because I care about them," Bradburn said.
Turner would not respond to questions about why his dispatchers had not applied. He said he did not think anyone in his department was discouraging them from applying and referred any further questions to the dispatchers themselves. No dispatcher agreed to be interviewed for this story.
After the Hernando Times told Turner on Wednesday that Nugent had received no applicants from Brooksville and that the sheriff was moving forward with filling his vacancies, Turner sent a memo to his dispatchers.
He told them that the consolidation vote was looming and that the openings Nugent made available would soon be filled.
"My advice to my Brooksville dispatchers is this: If you want to guarantee continuation in your chosen career field of emergency dispatching, I strongly suggest you apply without delay. If dispatch consolidation is passed by the Brooksville City Council, you will continue to have a job without interruption. It's in your interest to protect your careers and your paychecks."
* * *
Turner, Norman-Vacha and Bradburn all said they have been told that at least one, if not more, of the dispatchers had applied for the jobs. But as of Friday, no Brooksville applicants had submitted paperwork to the Sheriffs Department office of human resources, according to spokeswoman Donna Black.
"It's distressing to hear that no one has applied," Bradburn said. "That's disheartening because we said during these meetings that these opportunities existed."
Mayor David Pugh said he was looking forward to council discussion on consolidation and he was sorry to hear that none of the Brooksville employees have applied.
"If there was a potential that I might have to seek employment elsewhere and the Sheriff's Office was making positions available," he said, "I'd apply for it, no matter what."