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April 23, 2019

2/28/2019 2:57:00 PM
Emergency communications agreement re-worded, distributed as interim contract

There are still issues to be straightened out and avenues to be explored, but the county commissioners agreed February 20 on language for an interim emergency radio system subscription and use contract.  

This agreement has a 2019 lifespan, and could be replaced even before the year is over, if agreement wording is finalized with everybody. The County Board directed staff to “reach out” to all those on the dedicated radio system and keep working on expressed concerns and concerns not expressed yet.

County Administrator Bruce Messelt said the emergency radio communication use and subscription terms have been a “frustrating thing to manage,” adding that city councils overseeing their police and/or fire radios have several weeks to act on this version of the agreement.  

He added, “There’s this hang-up we can’t get a handle on,” describing negative feedback suddenly on what the agreement tries to put forward.  

Messelt continued,”We don’t have police wanting to get involved with how we do booking for them at the jail, we don’t hear that the (prosecutions) need continued input," he noted.  

These and communications, are all public safety services the county holds the reins on providing.

Late-arriving suggestions to revise radio communications agreement wording are time consuming, Messelt continued. It’s like “whack a mole” the arcade game, he said.  Agreements for the radio system are distributed and the county hears nothing back-- no requests to meet with any departments-- but when deadlines arrive for signing there are fresh concerns.  Chris DuBose and Ben Montzka, County Commissioners,  were asked in recent days to meet, they said,  but the sessions were not “official” and actually tend to result in mistrust in the process from other jurisdictions.

Messelt noted the radio contract equipping and subscribing issues have beenunderstood by local users, on the system since 2012-2013.  His agreemtn contacts are the city administrators. The county hasn’t gotten a request for one meeting on contract issues, he stated. If police and fire personnel feel ill-informed, they need to be improving dialogue within their own city halls.

One suggestion the county has been presented with, would be “hugely expensive” to implement and won’t be happening.  Messelt explained that Washington County will not be brought into secure “talk groups” dedicated within the Chisago system.  Encryption will also be maintained.

The oversight group for the communication system has been a rather informal advisory body, and another suggestion is subscribers wish to have greater input as to actual equipment, operations and technical matters.  

The advisory group can be enhanced, commissioners agreed,  and should meet more frequently.  But the county commissioners do not want to see county authority ceded to un-elected group of decision-makers ie: spending tax dollars.  

During the interim term of the agreement finding a way to resolve this level of oversight and technical issues, will be investigated.

Messelt said if public safety agencies and councils choose not to support this interim 2019 contract they can always look into switching to the VHF system the county has for public works and parks. It is less sophisticated but will connect with sheriff’s dispatch, he added.  

Cities are free to create their own emergency communications.  

Messelt said “...at the end of the day this is a county system” and the county needs contracts in place with those who are on it;  but there is no law that requires the county must be the provider.
Commissioner Montzka commented that he is looking for a “more explicit” process to come out of this.  County responsibility in providing emergency  services and its financial investment need to be protected --but at the same time entities want to be heard in relation to system technology and operability.

Commissioner DuBose had made a motion early on last week to delay adopting the interim contract for a month and this motion failed. DuBose later did support offering the interim contract in the follow-up vote.

Commissioner George McMahon said the county needs a legal device in place right now-- because the five-year contracts original to the subscribing and equipment use have expired.  He assured the Board, “We can get everybody in a room and work this out” ...and move forward.

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