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Dispatchers can help themselves, taxpayers
A Times Editorial
Published December 19, 2007
Instead of seizing the opportunity to save their jobs and taxpayers between $135,000 and $200,000 a year, dispatchers at the Brooksville Police Department are waging a battle of wills with the city manager and City Council in the hopes of not being absorbed by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. It is a risky standoff that has been worsened by the poor judgment of a meddling council member, and the dispatchers should reassess their options before they have none.
During budget workshop hearings a few months ago, City Manager Jenenne Norman-Vacha presented the idea of turning over dispatching and record-keeping duties to the Sheriff's Office. The move would affect five full-time and one part-time city employees. Council members expressed approval for the cost-cutting idea. That was partly because Norman-Vacha also secured a promise from Sheriff Richard Nugent that, as dispatching positions came open in his operation, he would not fill them until the city workers had a chance to apply.
After keeping the jobs open - some for months - none of the city dispatchers has applied. Now Nugent is seeking other applicants. Understandably, his offer of preferred status to the dispatchers has a limit and the dispatchers are inexplicably testing his generosity.
Even the direct and sage advice of their boss has not moved the dispatchers. In a Dec. 12 memo, Brooksville police Chief George Turner wrote: "I strongly suggest you apply without delay. If dispatch consolidation is passed by (the City Council) you will continue to have a job without interruption. It is in your best interest to protect your careers and your paychecks."
Still, the dispatchers hesitate. One reason for that continued reluctance might be the intrusive behavior of Council member Lara Bradburn, who visited the dispatchers Dec. 4 and warned them that their refusal to apply for jobs at the Sheriff's Office was foolhardy, and that the outcome is a foregone conclusion. In the process, she offended at least two of the dispatchers who fired off letters of protest to the chief.
There are different versions about the tone and substance of that discussion, but that detail is less important than the mistake Bradburn made by overstepping her bounds in the first place. She had no business pleading her case (she favors the consolidation) directly to the employees, even if it was a well-intentioned effort to ensure their job safety. That responsibility belongs to the city manager and police chief, both of whom have done a sufficient job of making the dispatchers aware of their situation.
Ultimately the dispatchers are accountable for their decisions. It would seem that if they can keep doing the same job in a larger organization with greater resources, the choice would be obvious, much in the same way it should be obvious to the council not to pass up an opportunity to improve emergency services and save taxpayers some of their hard-earned money.