TIM SKUBICK: Call centers are in a state of 9-1-1
Can you say turf war?
It looks like the legislature may be headed for another confrontation over downsizing the state’s Emergency 9-1-1- system which has about 150 call centers around the state. By comparison New York City has one.
This could involve the sheriffs, the state cops, the organization that represents the hundreds of call center operators and who knows who else will get into the scrum.
The renewed impetus could come from the governor’s secret law enforcement study committee which prides itself in not telling anyone what it is debating. Exempt from the open meetings act, one person correctly reports, it operates in a cone of silence.
But the cone has sprung a leak.
A former state lawmaker opened this debate in 2011 when he first proposed reducing the number of call centers from its 166 level then to 10.
Do the math. Somebody was going to lose his or her job fielding those emergency calls.
Rep. Richard LeBlanc (D-Westland) didn’t care. He valiantly did his homework but when the governor refused to sign off, LeBlanc’s effort went poof. Mr. Snyder said at the time he wanted to see if the consolidation could be handled on a volunteer basis and indeed in some areas, local governments combined operations.
In Grand Rapids and the City of Wyoming, for example, the combo produced an automatic $1.5 million savings according to G.R. Mayor Heartwell who declared it a success.
Sensing there are more dollars to be squeeze out of the system, the governor’s special commission of law enforcement types is taking a second look.
LeBlanc still thinks the case can be made for change and he even met with House GOP Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) at the beginning of the year, urging him to pick up where the Democrat left off.
For example, in Detroit, where putting cops on the beat has taken on a new urgency, the governor’s emergency manger was told the other day that he could take any number of police officers off the phones in the call centers, and get them back on the streets where crime is out of hand.
EM Kevin Orr was reportedly asked to nudge the gov to give the effort some oomph which the governor declined to offer two years ago.
Enter the Association of Public Safety Communication officials which is apparently oblivious to this move.
The APSC represents the call center employees who were none too happy when Mr. LeBlanc took them on two years ago.
Unaware of the latest secret effort, it has reserved judgment on what might be done until it sees something in writing.
When that might be, no one knows.
The governor’s panel meets once a month and is clearly discussing at the subcommittee level “taking the 9-1-1- system out of the hands of the 9-1-1 directors.”
It will take legislative votes to do that and if and when it gets in the legislative arena, that’s where the turf war would be fought.
On one side you will have those who might argue more police officers can be hired, if you take the savings from the consolidation and pump it into those crime fighting budgets around the state.
On the other side, one labor source contends the sheriffs, in concert with the APSC, don’t want to give up the call centers because they provide jobs and they could prevail on lawmakers to vote no. Which brings us to the nut of the consolidation problem.
Everyone wants the other guy to downsize, which means the status quo wins. We have seen that in the effort to reduce the number of school districts; have the counties assume some of the chores of townships, and now this.
The governor is fond of saying, everyone likes change until they are the ones having to change.
Here we go again.
Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972. He also covers the Capitol and politics for WLNS-TV6 in Lansing.