Board Supports New 911 Center (and plays a little politics)

Written by Jeff Johnson on November 19, 2010. Posted in General

On Tuesday, the board approved a resolution I offered to begin planning work on a new 911 communications facility for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office at the adult corrections facility site in Plymouth.  The resolution passed on a vote of 4 – 2.

The county has been discussing the need for a new 911 facility for many years.  Currently, the Sheriff’s Office dispatches 911 calls in an outdated 60-year-old facility in a Golden Valley residential neighborhood.  Earlier this year, the county hired a national expert on emergency communication facilities from D.C. to take a look at our current facility.  His report is not public, but the message in it was simple and stark: Hennepin County needs to replace the Golden Valley facility and we need to do it soon.

The two commissioners voting against the proposal had various reasons for their opposition, including the $30 million plus price tag of the project and disagreement about its location in Plymouth.  I have no reservations, however, about the dire need for this new facility.  Public safety is the first responsibility of government and we are clearly putting public safety in jeopardy if we don’t finally act on a new 911 facility.  Failure of our 911 system wouldn’t be an inconvenience, it would be a disaster.

I’m constantly complaining about our inability to prioritize spending on the county board, but this week I’m happy to say the board chose to make public safety a priority.

Nothing, however, happens up here without a little drama:

For fix of politics, dial up 911 plan

Kevin Duchschere, Star Tribune

The Hennepin County Board voted Tuesday to proceed with plans to develop a new 911 dispatch center at the county’s workhouse in Plymouth. That was the expected part.

What wasn’t expected was that the board at the same time dropped from the 911 study group the commissioner who sponsored the successful resolution, Jeff Johnson, and replaced him with another one, Mark Stenglein, who voted against it.

Doesn’t make much sense. Unless you consider that an article by Johnson appeared Tuesday on the Star Tribune’s opinion page taking the board to task for “our unwillingness to set [funding] priorities.”

“Every once in a while we play silly games up here, and I suppose that’s an example,” Johnson said afterward.

It’s not the first time that Johnson, one of the board’s two avowed Republicans, has ticked off his mostly DFL colleagues.

Shortly after taking office last year he began a blog, Hennepin County Taxpayer Watchdog, that spotlights county projects he finds less than worthy.

Among the recent winners of his “Golden Hydrant” award: thousands of dollars for art in new county libraries (it’s 1 percent of the building budget).

Commissioner Gail Dorfman said she substituted Stenglein for Johnson on the study group because Stenglein wanted in. He represents the current dispatch center, in Golden Valley, and the proposed Plymouth site.

“We tend to defer to the commissioner whose district it’s located in,” she said.

But Dorfman also expressed weariness with what she called Johnson’s “disparaging” of the board.

“I wasn’t very happy with that article,” she said. “It seemed to be a lot of grandstanding. That’s typically not how we work up here. We talk to each other. I’m not sure what he seeks to gain from that.”

Johnson said he’s not changing. “I never call anyone out individually and I never will,” he said. “But I think having an alternative view on the board is healthy and I will keep expressing myself.”

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