Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 26, 2006

makes move toward independence|[1/26/06].

The E-911 Commission wants to evolve into an independent regulatory entity, the commission resolved in its monthly meeting Wednesday.

The resolution, one of three spearheaded by Mayor Laurence Leyens, was approved unanimously after discussion by the seven-member commission, whose members are now designated by state law.

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The commission also unanimously approved resolutions to ask city and county boards to consolidate all 911-related assets and equipment under commission authority and to officially ask that the board of supervisors approve the former Southern Printing building at First North and Clay streets as the new home of the E-911 Dispatch Center. That lobbying job had previously fallen solely to E-911 Director Geoffrey Greetham, Leyens said, when the commission should be represented as a body.

Leyens said the move toward more autonomy wouldn’t give the body more decision-making power, but would help eliminate hangups due to political rivalries among commission members. Eventually, Leyens said he’d like to see the commission develop its own funding method, via a line item on county taxes or other fees equally shared by city and county residents.

&#8220The more we get politics off the table, the better,” he said at the meeting. &#8220The politicians have shown themselves in the past to be ignorant and egomaniacal, and to put politics first and the public second. And that’s scary when you’re talking about public safety.”

Voters OK’d the computer-enhanced, centralized dispatching system for countywide needs in 1989. The legislation specified board seats as the mayor, sheriff, a supervisor, police chief, fire chief, county fire coordinator and emergency operations director.

Sheriff Martin Pace and other commission members questioned the legality of moving the commission, established by state law, from county oversight.

&#8220I think we’ve got some real legal obstacles to overcome,” Pace told Leyens at the meeting. &#8220Under the current requirements I don’t think what you’re saying can happen.”

Leyens said he was confident the city board would approve the motion, but said he worried about the board of supervisors.

&#8220I’m just going to have to take it to my board and present them with it,” said District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, the supervisors’ E-911 representative. &#8220I think it’s going to be a legislative problem.”

If the county board passes the motion, Leyens said he would lobby state representatives to introduce legislation that would allow an autonomous commission.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said he was unsure of the law governing emergency commissions but would support such legislation if both boards passed resolutions supporting it.

&#8220If I get a resolution from both bodies, I’m willing to try,” said Flaggs. &#8220It’s always been my experience when going to the Legislature that it’s better to have them agree rather than pit one entity against another.”

Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, said he thought the request violated state law and worried about Leyens’ ability to push such resolutions through the commission.

&#8220If personality is involved in 911, then that’s a problem,” said Chaney, who added he would have to read any resolutions before deciding on whether to lend his support. &#8220They need to rise above personality and work for the good of our community.”

Leyens called the commission’s resolution &#8220a big step,” however, and said he was willing to pursue other options – including pushing to shake up the board’s voting makeup – to eliminate what he described as politically-motivated voting.

&#8220It may take five years to fix this,” Leyens said. &#8220But you’ve got to start at step one, and step one is saying, ‘We think this is a good idea.’”.

Leyens, in his second term, has been a consistent critic of the funding formula for the dispatch center. Residents and businesses pay a fee on cell bills which is supplemented from city and county general revenue. Leyens points out that since city residents pay county taxes, too, their assessment is doubled. Supervisors have responded that a balance is achieved because most calls are for municipal police or fire personnel.