911 Center director strongly disagrees with mayor’s claim of deception

Published 11:17 am Monday, November 16, 2015

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Monday he would go back to Vicksburg-Warren 911 Communications Center and city fire stations, but next time, he is doing so unannounced.

Flaggs issued a press release Monday announcing his intentions to make a return visit to the center and stations in response to criticism over the weekend that he did not take enough time in his visits last week.

“I have been criticized for not spending enough time at the Warren County 911 Center and the Vicksburg Fire Department during my scheduled visits,” Flaggs wrote. “Over the next several months, I plan to make additional visits to both the 911 center and the stations of the fire department to observe their operating procedures. These visits will be unannounced.”

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The Friday tour and visit to the communications center were part of Flaggs’ plan to visit city departments and spend the day learning how they operate. Previous visits included the city’s water and gas administration, working with a sewer department crew and a community services crew. He also visited community development. He had scheduled three hours for the visit to 911.

One of the issues Flaggs has had with the communications center in the past has been the high volume of calls dispatchers receive during their shifts. Chuck Tate, 911 director, has asked the 911 commission to hire more dispatchers, which Flaggs opposes.

Flaggs has questioned the center’s call statistics, and believes the communications center needs to be better managed. After his visit, however, he said he would consider adding money for two dispatchers in the city’s 2017 budget.

Flaggs was criticized by the 911 dispatchers after he visited the communications center for an hour Friday and left, telling them he learned all he needed to know about the center’s activities. The dispatchers said one hour was insufficient, adding the mayor needed to spend at least a 12-hour shift at the center listening to calls.

Dispatchers connected a headset to a console so Flaggs could listen to calls, but he did not use it during the visit.

Tate said he has no problem with the mayor making unannounced visits, “depending on what’s going on.”

“You’re making an unannounced visit and all hell’s breaking loose around here, they may just tell him, ‘We don’t need you in here at the moment.’” Tate said.

Flaggs tried to validate his reason for not staying longer at the 911 Center saying he believed the activity at the center was staged just for him, adding he believed the calls were planned and the responses by dispatchers scripted.

“[Someone] suggested to me to not tell them I was coming over there, but I didn’t think there was nothing to it,” Flaggs said. “[Dispatchers] weren’t being truthful. They were being told what to say. They told me there was 74 calls when I was there. Seventy-four calls in that hour.”

Flaggs has asked Tate to give him the call volumes from 2 to 3 p.m. each Friday for the next three Fridays, “Having known that one of those Fridays is Black Friday.”

Tate took exception to Flaggs saying 911 officials and dispatchers staged calls for the mayor’s visit.

“He’s called me a liar twice in the press, the last in a public meeting,” Tate said. “I may be lots of things, but I’m not that. He has an opinion, (and) whatever it is, it must be true, because he’s not listening to anyone else.”

Tate said nothing was staged for Flaggs’ visit and the dispatchers were not told what to say.

“The only thing that was not normal was the fact that we cleaned up a little bit before he got here, just like anybody having a visitor to their house makes sure the dishes are washed and the clothes are put away,” Tate said. “(That’s) the only thing that was different from any other time.”

When Flaggs entered the center, he said, “I introduced him to the shift supervisor and left him with the shift supervisor in the dispatch console and went back to my office, so they would be there doing whatever they do. Nothing was staged. Everything was business as usual.”

Tate said he has never told dispatchers what to say “except on the telephone or on the radio. They have their own opinions. They’re free to make their own opinions. They’ve always been free to tell me when they didn’t like something or disagreed with me. I do not put words in their mouth except for telephone procedure and radio procedure. That’s the only time I tell them what they have to say.”

He added he made it a point to not be in the dispatch area during Flaggs’ visit so he would not be accused of affecting the visit.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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