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The show will go on

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Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Apr 19, 2012; Section: Opinion; Page: 6A

The show will go on
Council right to wait 30 days

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

Tuesday was the day for delay in Waukesha. The morning commute started with a transformer blocking traffic and the evening ended with the Common Council voting 8-6 to delay a decision on the city’s emergency dispatch consolidating with the Waukesha County emergency dispatch.

Despite the best efforts of the Waukesha Police Department, only around 200 people attended the Common Council meeting at Waukesha North High School on Tuesday night. Included in the crowd were quite a few people in uniform. If you were looking for a good time to rob a convenience store in the city of Waukesha, at least eight squad cars were tied up attending the Common Council meeting.

You could tell the meeting was orchestrated by the Waukesha Police Department by the amount of yellow police tape used. Even the Common Council members were wrapped in the tape.

Police Chief Russell Jack opened his presentation with a music video featuring the music of Michael Jackson blaring through the high school auditorium speakers with historical photos of the Waukesha Police Department.

Former Mayor Carol Lombardi gave the history of the dispatch center before she called upon the two members of the Common Council who also happen to be county supervisors to abstain. She didn’t mention Alderman Terry Thieme’s past with the Waukesha Police Department.

A former sheriff’s deputy spoke about the inflexibility of the WCC dispatch. Both Mukwonago Police Chief Kevin Schmidt and Muskego Police Chief Paul Geiszler warned against the county taking over 911 dispatch services for the city of Waukesha.

Local real estate developer Bill Huelsman even declared the current city call center tornado and terrorist proof.

Jack took the critics head-on in his presentation, distorting as he went. He took Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas’ words completely out of context about why the county was not going to make a presentation. He attacked Alderman Kathleen Cummings and Alderman Duane Paulson.

I was even mentioned in the presentation as unnamed “blogger.” The chief only quoted one word from me, “intimidation,” without explaining how my research uncovered his department’s attempt to stack the audience, prompting what was an unnecessary and expensive move of the meeting’s location.

Much of the presentation Tuesday night was a criticism of the Waukesha County dispatch. Jack played a 911 call where the WCC’s confusion allowed suspects in Brookfield passing a bad check to slip away. Another 911 call was an example of the county calling the city of Waukesha for an emergency ambulance call that was outside the city’s jurisdiction.

Despite the criticisms of the county dispatch, Jack made it a point to praise the staff – before he launched into more criticisms, including “poor leadership,” lack of consistency and insufficient training time.

Jack did find some negatives about the city’s dispatch operation. Apparently the dust bunnies are accumulating and the office needs cleaning.

Without any independent study, without any opposing information, without even completing a thorough investigation of all of the alternatives, the council would have been voting in the dark if they had voted on the consolidation issue. Fortunately the Common Council made the correct decision in delaying a vote for 30 days.

This will allow the council more time to explore alternatives, including housing the city’s dispatch service with the county but keeping them operationally separate. The aldermen will also have a chance to see the county’s new dispatch software in action, and have the county answer some questions about the extra needs of the city police force.

Supporters of consolidation had better work on some of their colleagues. A vote of 8-6 is not enough to override an eventual veto by Mayor Jeff Scrima if it’s the same vote tally for consolidation.

Interestingly, at the same meeting the mayor voted against hiring a search firm to find a new fire chief, breaking a tie on the Common Council. Last year the mayor opposed moving a fire station because of the cost even though response times will be reduced.

Apparently there is a limit on the price of safety, even if the mayor has not yet found it with the Police Department. Perhaps the mayor will remember the cost of opposing dispatch consolidation when budget time comes and he again challenges the council to a zero increase in the tax levy. I suppose he could always propose a garbage fee again.

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