Opinion: Whoa, Mr. Warner!

City of Fort Wayne Seal Allen County Board of Commissioners Seal Sheriff's Department logo.

This is a bit long, but I would encourage you to read all of it.

Tracey Warner, editorial page editor for the Journal Gazette has done it again.

In today’s edition he has an article editorial about last week’s 9-1-1 consolidation meetings.  I’m not able to speak about the Monday meeting because I wasn’t able to attend.  However, there are a couple of things that once again demonstrate why people should look at our local media with a questioning eye.

[Sheriff Ken] Fries told the commissioners they are wrong. […] and so is state Rep. Matt Bell. In fact, the entire legislature is wrong.

What Warner doesn’t give you is the reason Fries feels the state legislature was wrong.  When it enacted the legislation mandating PSAP consolidation, Fries feels the legislature based it’s decisions on Lake County.  Lake County has something like 10(?) PSAPs which were spending millions of tax dollars each year.  He feels the legislature set the standard for the entire state, regardless of how it’s handled in separate counties, based on the situation in Lake County.  This was the reason for him saying, “The information (the legislature) got was wrong.”

Another Warner statement:

[…] Area residents are well aware of the repeated battles between city and county government.

I think he should clarify exactly what the repeated battles are.  9-1-1 Consolidation is one, Renaissance Square another.  Usually what makes headlines are these big picture battles.  Frankly, that’s the way it should be.  These big picture “battles” are such that they should be debated and fretted over openly – isn’t that one of Warner’s most advocated for themes?  And yet here’s an instance where that happens and he wants to do nothing more than hype it up and magnify the situation and at some points, not entirely accurately.

Another Warner statement:

[…] But sheriffs – including Fries and his predecessor, Jim Herman – have strongly fought any such effort that doesn’t put the sheriff in charge, even though the vast majority of the calls are within the city.

The vast majority of the calls are within the city, however, City law enforcement officers do not have jurisdiction in the County. The County does have jurisdiction in the City however. Logical sense would dictate this should be a County function, rather than City regardless of population or call volumes.

[…] In some ways, the departments are already partly merged because when dispatchers on one side are busy, calls bounce to the other.

And sometimes, those calls bounce to New Haven’s PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point). But an even bigger detail, which is not often mentioned, is that the City and County share the same radio systems and regularly monitor each others radio calls.

[…] If this issue was purely about safety, the city and county would pool their resources to the benefit of all of their constituents.

Fries says he objects for safety reasons. But make no mistake: This is all about political power and control.

And pooling resources would lead to increased public safety how? This is the very heart of Fries’ resistance to consolidation, and yet no one has explained how merger will get a fire truck to a burning home any quicker. And perhaps I’ve not been around the block long enough, but how would following the state statute on how the board is appointed give Fries any increased political power and control?

Now to the meeting I can intelligently (well, at least as intelligently as I am able) talk about, Friday’s Commissioner’s Legislative Session.

His comment about Commissioner Bill Browns statements:

[…] “This is not a political decision,” Brown said, expressing perhaps the most wildly inaccurate observation at the meeting, before criticizing the city for playing politics by putting Fries’ 2006 election opponent, Tina Taviano, in charge of city dispatching.

The reason Commissioner Brown responded the way he did was because City of Fort Wayne Deputy Mayor Greg Purcell had just stated that he had talked with several City Communications employees who shared they felt they were a political football.

What Brown said, in its entirety was this: “This is not a political decision, or situation for me.” Unless Warner has the ability to climb inside one’s mind and incontrovertibly know the motivations or reasons behind a persons statement or actions, this was about the most wildly inaccurate observation I’ve read in print in a long time!

I would also not characterize Brown’s following statement as “criticizing” as much as pointing out to Purcell that the City had only itself to blame for its employees feeling like a policital football.

Commissioner Brown: This is not a political decision, or situation for me. I’ve talked with our folks on the County side and no one is telling me they feel like the football.

[He then goes on to state:]

But you won’t have to look far, if you’re talking about politics, you brought it up, look at the fired [? not sure if it was fire, hire, fired] appointment to 9-1-1. I’m not talking about the person per say, but just look at the political piece that’s connected to that. They opposed each other [running for] Sheriff’s race, there was a representation that there would be over a million dollars saved – which all that started to melt down, down, down, down to basically nothing saved. And then there was a prompt termination of a single point of accountability by the Police Chief…so yeah. You know what? I can probably see why they do feel like the political football.

Deputy Mayor Greg Purcell: Well, Commissioner, you’re right there in terms of that, but if you look on the other side, the Sheriff is an elected person and the people he appoints are going to be people who have some loyalty to him. That’s really why I think having a board that gets it away from the political arena with police chiefs and fire chiefs that are on that board – it gets it one step removed.

But does a board, under the proposed Peters-Henry plan get it away from the political arena? Their plan calls for an Executive Board which is comprised of the three County Commissioners and the Mayor. The only purpose of this Executive Board is to serve as tie-breaker. The real decisions will be made by the Operations Board which will be comprised of three Mayoral appointees and three appointees by the County Commissioners. Those six will then select a seventh member. Will elected-official-appointees really take this away from the political arena?

The other thing that bothers me about this discussion of the makeup of the “board”, is that the State Statute spells out exactly who should be on the board:

IC 36-8-15-9
Governing body; powers; establishment of a public safety communications commission


(c) In a county not having a consolidated city, the board shall establish a public safety communications commission representing the public safety agencies that are served by the district. The members of this commission are:

  1. one (1) person appointed by the county executive;
  2. one (1) person appointed by the county fiscal body;
  3. one (1) person appointed by the executive of each city in the district; and
  4. the county sheriff.

Members serve for four (4) year terms. The county legislative body shall provide by ordinance for the length of each initial term so that the result is staggered terms for commission members.
(d) In a county not having a consolidated city, the chief law enforcement and fire safety officers of each participating unit shall constitute a technical advisory committee to advise the board and the public safety communications commission upon request.

So the question is, why did this latest proposed Interlocal Agreement try to reinvent the wheel?  Sheriff Fries shared with me Friday that he was in favor of following the state statute.  Why wouldn’t we?

In conclusion, let me just say this. This is another issue that has polarized our community. Unfortunately, that polarization isn’t around what’s the best way to handle the consolidation and resulting 9-1-1 Communication System. The polarization comes when looking at one person involved – Sheriff Ken Fries. People view him more often as the impediment instead of the defender/protector of public safety. I have talked with many different people about the issue. In fact, I mentioned the Sheriff’s comments about the fact that the TRAA software bridge is still not operational to one person and the response I received was that the Sheriff will always find a reason to sabotage or hinder the consolidation.

But consider this – what is so wrong about the Sheriff or County having control? About the only statement I agreed with in Warner’s column was this:

[…] There is evidence, though, of wasted time and mistakes in dispatching under the current system.

And while I can’t pretend to know exactly which incidents he is lumping in the “wasted time and mistakes” total, I think I can safely assume he is speaking of a few high-profile incidents inside the City’s department this past year. Seems to me the Sheriff/County has a better track record when it comes to handling this area of responsibility.

It is far easier to dismiss Sheriff Fries as power-grabbing or “swaggering” or “angry” than it is to seriously consider his position.  And frankly, wouldn’t you be angry if you were in his shoes and cut out of a major decision or portrayed as an obstacle?  Is it little wonder he wasn’t a bit miffed at Monday’s meeting?

I’ll have a bit more about this later, including some video interviews with Deputy Mayor Greg Purcell, Commissioner Bill Brown and Sheriff Ken Fries.

Related weblinks:
Interlocal Agreement propsed Monday
Interview with Sheriff Ken Fries and conclusionSeptember 4th 2009
Sheriff Fries letter to Commissioners Re: 9-1-1 Consolidation plandated December 29th 2008

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  1. Hi Stephen,

    You said that, “The vast majority of the calls are within the city, however, City law enforcement officers do not have jurisdiction in the County.” IC 36-1-7-7 allows for an agreement between the city and county police departments, that I believe Allen County and Fort Wayne have (or had, at one time.) Also, I’m thinking that Indiana Code allows for any commissioned officer to exercise limited powers anywhere within the state, but I sure can’t find it.

    • My understanding was that City officers can not just go out into the County and enforce things – they have to be, don’t know if it’s the correct word, invited or receive permission. That’s one of the major differences between Sheriff Deputies and City officers. Sheriff’s Deputies can take action in the City, not vice versa. There might have been some sort of agreement that in times of crisis or need, then Fort Wayne officers powers can be extended into the County, but I don’t think it’s a free-range type of deal. I’ll try to check this week. If there is a statute such as you’re talking about, I have a feeling it would be very limited powers and probably only in specific circumstances.

      As I said, I could be wrong – Lord knows I’ve been wrong before.

    • IC 36-1-7-7 reads like it’s talking about Mutual Aid agreements. But a little farther down in 36-1-7-7, it does talk about visiting officers having powers as long as they are authorized by the jurisdiction they are visiting. Again, I’ll try to check on this during week. If there is a sworn officer out there reading this who would like to respond, but perhaps you don’t want to post it under your name, feel free to email me – slp@aroundfortwayne.com. Thanks!

  2. IC 36-8-15-9 would only dictate the makeup of the board, if the Henry-Peters plan, as you called it, was consolidating 911 based on IC 36-8-15-9. Reading through the Interlocal Agreement, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    • Isn’t that the point I was making, Stan? Why try to reinvent the wheel. If you’re going to do something because the legislature decrees it – as has been stated in this latest go-round, then why wouldn’t you follow the Indiana Code as written? Shouldn’t Indiana Code take precedence? The citation dictates how it’s to be handled, how can you not follow it?

      Following IC, you’d probably end up with a bigger board than under the Henry-Peters plan – and yes, I’m calling it that for good reason – but it would be more representative of the communities involved, wouldn’t it?


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