MARC CHASE: E-911 consolidation is good government gone bad

2013-08-15T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: E-911 consolidation is good government gone badBy Marc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
August 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

If you're having trouble following the process Lake County government and law enforcement officials are using to consolidate emergency 911 dispatches into one central facility, you might find this checklist helpful:

  • Put off the state mandate to consolidate dispatch centers for about five years, only getting down to brass tacks just before the deadline. Check.
  • Push for a no-bid contract with one communications equipment vendor without considering others. Check.
  • Hire a new director to lead the consolidated 911 system on a $112,000 annual contract, guaranteed for three years, then, at a later date, sweeten the pot with another $7,000 stipend for "moving expenses" that wasn't part of the original contract. Check.

If we wait a week or two, this to-do list of short-sighted priorities and actions likely will grow, all at taxpayer expense.

In 2008, in an attempt to thrust good government on the historically bad system in Lake County, the Indiana Legislature mandated consolidating the county's 17 municipal and county 911 dispatch centers into one facility. The idea is to create a more efficient system by sharing resources.

It looks really good on paper — until you ask Lake County to implement it.

First we saw five years of foot-dragging as some local officials pulled their blankies over their heads and hoped the mandate would go away.

Now those officials claim they are out of time to seek bids and explore multiple services. They want a no-bid contract with Motorola for communications equipment.

Motorola's equipment might be great. But we don't really know what kind of deal we could get because police and government officials are telling us Motorola is the only way to go. Let's scrap one of the highest ideals of good government — seeking competitive bids for contracts — and just trust them on this one. If that sounds good to you, have another swig of Kool-Aid.

This consolidated facility could cost upward of $20 million to get off the ground and another $8 million per year in operational expenses. Shouldn't seeking out the best deal be a priority?

Just last week, taxpayers and some county government officials received another blind-side hit. The newly tapped E-911 director, Brian Hitchcock — recently issued that $112,000 annual salary — will get another $7,000 in moving money to relocate from the Quad Cities.

The $7,000 might not seem like much by government standards. But most people reading this column probably could use an extra $7,000.

It's pretty hard to justify further sweetening of a $112,000 pot by tossing another $7,000 to Hitchcock.

Let's also consider how this "moving money" was given. Hitchcock's salary had to first be approved by the Lake County Council before getting final approval from the Board of Commissioners. But the $7,000 pot sweetener went straight to the three commissioners, not the seven-person council.

Emergency 911 consolidation was drawn up as a good government initiative. Perhaps this is Lake County's version of that sentiment.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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