The Cowley County consolidated 911 dispatch center came under scrutiny during a recent meeting of the City Commission of Arkansas City.

After the meeting, Ark City Daily Bytes requested and inspected numerous emails, spanning more than a year and a half, from local government officials in order to verify claims made that night. The findings of this investigation are shared in this and future stories.

Citizens interested in speaking out on this issue are urged to contact their county commissioner. Contact information can be found at www.cowleycounty.org/commission and a map of the commission districts is located at www.cowleycounty.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Commission_Districts.pdf.

ECAB vote

The Emergency Communications Advisory Board (ECAB) serves as an advisory board for Cowley County Emergency Communications (CCEC).

It provides an outlet for local first response supervisors to provide professional feedback and suggestions. But it is an advisory board only and its votes do not carry any budgetary authority. The Cowley County Commission and county administrator are responsible for all funding decisions.

One of Police Chief Dan Ward’s complaints during the Jan. 17 City Commission meeting was a 2016 incident in which all but one ECAB member, including himself, voted to recommend funding for an item he had requested.

The item in question was funding for the Spillman software used in the Arkansas City Police Department’s Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs). These terminals are integrated into the patrol vehicles used by ACPD officers.

The proposed software would have allowed for increased communication and coordination between ACPD and CCEC.

Ward asked for and received 911 funding in 2015 to support the connectivity of the MDTs. By the time last May arrived, he was directing his officers to use them more in order to relieve some of the dispatchers’ workload.

“The Ark City Police Chief is directing his staff to start using these resources to conduct more of their agency business,” CCEC Director Carl Fortner writes in an email dated May 27, 2016. “I am directing you to do the same, within the following parameters…”

But then came the ECAB vote, followed by the county administration’s refusal to follow the recommendation to fund Ward’s request. Fortner indicated a funding shortfall did not allow the item to be funded.

“The ECAB, minus one voting member, approved the expenditure without regard to whether funding actually existed and without any legal authority to make such an expenditure authorization,” Fortner said in an email to Ark City Daily Bytes.

Ward explains decision

After the ECAB vote, Ward made the decision to cancel the mobile Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) program and stop trying to pursue using the Spillman software on his department’s MDTs. He explained the reasons for his decision in an Aug. 4, 2016, email to Fortner.

“This was not an easy decision and I have given it a great deal of consideration,” Ward writes.

“Originally when I went into this project it was intended to be as much a benefit for dispatch as it would be for us at ACPD. … As such, I was willing to purchase the mobile computers, MDM software to be (Kansas Criminal Justice Information Systems) compliant, mobile hotspots for internet connectivity, and pay for the County’s required Duo app to comply with security stipulations.

“The cost associated with the above items far exceeded the cost of the software expense through Spillman.”

Ward explained that the State of Kansas intended for 911 funds to be used for the purpose he had requested and also stated that Fortner had been an advocate for mobile dispatching, but ACPD was practically the only agency that could implement the system effectively.

“As you are aware, Senate bill 50 allows for the expenditure of 911 tax funds for mobile CAD software,” Ward writes. “In fact many departments use 911 tax funds to pay for the software expense because it greatly aides the dispatch center and reduces their work load. In a recent meeting, I even recall (Fortner) stating he wished all the agencies in Cowley could have mobile CAD.

“The fact is Ark City is the only agency in Cowley who could effectively use mobile due to the simple fact we have a limited number of vehicles and could sustain the costs of outfitting them with computers.”

Ward then recounted how the ECAB vote and subsequent county denial had occurred, asserting the county made up its mind before the vote.

“At the last ECAB meeting (Fortner) spoke to the board prior to my presentation or request to use 911 funds,” Ward writes. “It was clear that (Fortner) had his marching orders and funds would not be used to cover the costs.

“It was pointed out that the board could only make non-binding recommendations before we even made a recommendation. The board voted to use 911 tax money to cover the expense with only one member voting against it.” (The nay vote was cast by Cowley County Emergency Management Coordinator Brian Stone.)

“I was informed a week later that the 911 funds would not be used for the expense,” Ward continues.

Ward concluded his email by saying he would terminate the mobile CAD project because he was weary of fighting for its funding through 911.

“All of these factors led me to the decision that Arkansas City cannot depend on the county’s IT or the county’s cooperative cost sharing,” Ward writes. “As such I have decided to take a huge leap backwards and (scrap) the mobile CAD project.

“This has not been an easy decision for me. While I recognize this will make dispatch and our officers less efficient, I simply cannot continue to shoulder the ever increasing costs along and I have grown tired of the constant battle to get things done.”

County officials respond

In an Aug. 4, 2016, reply to Ward, Fortner said he regretted the chief’s decision, but admitted the abandoning of MDTs probably was inevitable because only ACPD was using them.

“I definitely wish we could have MDTs in every public safety response vehicle in Cowley County,” Fortner writes.

“Unfortunately the infrastructure costs make that prohibitive, and there doesn’t seem to even be buy-in from other administrators in the public safety community. While the ECAB approved a recommendation to fund your MDT project, they have made no attempt to implement MDT use in their own agencies.

“Other agencies have, however, also wanted to use 911 funds to support their (own) projects (e.g. Firehouse software) but they too have been denied.”

Fortner also explained in his email reply that he had used some county general fund revenues to pay for costs related to the actual processing of 911 calls. But the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council required him to report when 911 fund revenues were not used for that purpose. How then, he argued, could he justify spending 911 funds not on his personnel or equipment, but on non-CCEC costs such as MDT connectivity?

“In fairness, Chief Ward’s requested allocation could be funded according to state law, but the County was in no way required to fund it,” Fortner said in his email to Daily Bytes.

“But in fairness to the County too, there is not sufficient reserve funding to allow any particular agency’s project to be funded by 911 fees. He was proposing an enhanced communication pathway, and sought 911 funding to pay for it. When the County denied his $7,000+ request, Arkansas City abandoned the use of their MDTs, and the complaints began to fly.”

“I am sure from your perspective you feel like the County is not participating in the cost share, but I take extreme exception to that,” then-County Administrator Jeremy Willmoth told Ward in an email Aug. 5, 2016. “While I sympathize with your frustrations, I simply cannot abide that all of the problems are solely the County’s fault.”

(Willmoth officially became the city manager for the City of Winfield last week. His successor as county administrator is Lucas Goff.)

“However,” Willmoth says in his email to Ward, “if you feel that the City (of Arkansas City) would be better served maintaining your own (Records Management) system and wish to leave the County provided solution, please let us know so we can begin making arrangements toward that end. If you would like to see if we can come to an agreement on our differences in an effort to move forward I am open to that as well.”

“(I) encourage Chiefs (Bobby) Wolfe and Ward to remain active in the group,” Fortner said in his email to Daily Bytes. “We value their input, even if we don’t always agree. But they are given a seat at the table.”

But Ward’s statements in the Jan. 17 City Commission meeting and his Aug. 4, 2016, email indicate he feels otherwise about the role and purpose of the ECAB.

“I was very disappointed in this process and I question why we even meet as an ECAB board,” he told Fortner and Willmoth in his email. “It is clear this decision was made prior to any vote or recommendation of the board. This decision by the county not to continue our mutually beneficial cost sharing was short sighted and the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

911 fund reserve

The minutes for the July 2016 ECAB meeting show that the 911 fund balance sat at $55,814.82. In addition, the minutes state there is a goal in place to put $60,000 in reserve per year for 10 years. Ward cited this reserve growth as one of the county’s reasons for denying his request.

“I was also informed the 911 tax fund reserve was growing $56,000 a year and the goal was to increase the reserve by $60,000 a year so there were no funds available,” he said in his Aug. 4, 2016, email.

“We are conservatively trying to set aside $60,000 a year so that in 10 years we will have $600,000 to replace our radio system that will be 12 years old,” Willmoth writes in his reply email.

“Unless the revenues increase — even this will not be possible with the current costs we are paying out of the fund. We paid $620,000 when we bought this system so the County will have to come up with whatever shortfall the 911 fund cannot support when it comes time to replace the system. If 911 funds increase sufficiently to cover these costs — then we can look at adding other fixed costs but the County isn’t about to increase our obligation to pay for items the 911 fund should be paying any more than your city would agree to do the same.”

The July 2016 minutes also state Fortner said the “reserve will be used to continue to support current 911 activities and to put money aside to cover future costs related to equipment upgrades, replacements, etc.”

MDTs remain functional

It is important to note that the ACPD MDTs still retain functionality, even without the Spillman mobile CAD software.

“The Panasonic Toughbook laptop computers within the ACPD Patrol vehicles serve multiple purposes,” said Information Technology Manager Matthew Metzinger.

In addition to serving as the mobile data terminal for the Spillman CAD and RMS (Records Management System), the following functions also are provided to the officers:

  • Access to the DigiTICKET system for electronic ticketing and uploading to the online server.
  • Remote access to the city’s Incode utility billing and court records systems for name and address verification.
  • Remote access to ACPD’s server for file lookup and Sleuth RMS lookup for archived records.

The MDTs also provide internet access for web look-ups, employee email access, web-hosted applications such as PowerDMS and weather alerts.

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a multi-part series. The first part can be viewed at http://wp.me/p7A1jR-2AH.

Save

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *