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911 shakeup continues as dispatcher is fired

[12/22/04]A 911 dispatcher on probation was fired Tuesday after a month of shakeups at the emergency call and dispatch center.

Vicksburg Fire Chief Keith Rogers, who serves as chairman of the Warren County E-911 Commission, said the employee had been at the dispatch center for about eight months. Dispatchers are on probation and can be dismissed without a stated cause anytime during the first year.

Rogers declined to identify the employee or give a reason for the termination. The employee became the third to leave since the Nov. 5 resignation of the former center director Allen Maxwell.

Two others have quit, dropping the number of dispatchers to 12 with one new hire. There are slots for 14.

“I think we’re OK, but I’m keeping a close eye on it,” Rogers said.

He said that if the number of employees becomes a problem, firefighters or police officers will be assigned to shore up the dispatch center. The center, which operates out of the basement of the Warren County Courthouse, is a combined call and dispatch center that receives all 911 calls for the city and county and dispatches police, fire, ambulance, sheriff’s deputies and volunteer fire departments. It is funded by fees on local phone bills and supplements from city and county treasuries.

Rogers took over as chairman of the commission after Warren County Volunteer Fire Coordinator Kelly Worthy stepped down at the same time Maxwell left. Worthy continues to serve as a member of the commission.

The reason for those actions were not made public, but problems brought to light included “screaming and hollering” in the dispatch center and “physical contact” between the director and employees.

The commission had met behind closed doors for three days in November after those situations became known.

Also Tuesday, District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders said the commission’s initial response to employee complaints was too slow and that supervisors have a board responsibility to act more directly.

Within 24 hours after the incidents that sparked the situation happened, complaints were lodged, Flanders told members of the Vicksburg Kiwanis Club. The employees were told the situation would be handled at an upcoming meeting, but a series of special sessions were called and the closed-door investigations were held.

“I sat in on all of them, though I am not a member of the E-911 Commission,” Flanders said. “If I am not aware of what’s going on, I would be derelict in my duty.”

From what he learned, Flanders said one issue remains that concerns him.

“I continue to be disturbed by the alleged misconduct by two commission members who are county employees,” he said. “There’s overwhelming evidence, these two committed inappropriate actions, conspired to cover up what was going on in the 911 dispatch center. These are allegations. I am not saying they happened.”

The commission is made up of the mayor of Vicksburg and its fire and police chiefs, one member of the board of supervisors, Warren County sheriff, the Warren County emergency management director and the Warren County coordinator of volunteer fire departments.

He said the actions of the two county employees need to be addressed, but some other supervisors have thwarted his efforts to call an executive session for that purpose.