Knox County mistakenly broadcasts closed-door meeting about dispatch turmoil

By Stephen Betts | Feb 15, 2019
This is a photograph from a meeting of the Knox County Commission from last year. Commissioner Carol Maines, second from right, is no longer on the board.

Rockland — The Knox County Commission held a lengthy closed-door meeting Tuesday, Feb. 12, about turmoil in the dispatch center, but unknown to the commissioners, their discussion was being aired live over the internet.

The county broadcasts its meetings, which can be viewed by going to its website,  knoxcountymaine.gov. The camera and audio, however, are supposed to be turned off when the meetings are concluded and when they go into an executive session.

That did not happen, however, at the meeting last week, which was supposed to be an evaluation of County Administrator Andrew Hart. State law allows government boards to hold closed-door meetings on certain personnel matters.

The meeting quickly turned to the issue of the communications center, however, and that dominated the closed-door meeting. At issue is significant turnover in the facility, according to county officials. The center is down four dispatchers and there has been criticism of how the facility is managed.

The city created a deputy communications director position about a year ago to help improve the situation. Former Rockland Deputy Police Chief Wally Tower was hired for the post.

Tower was offered the patrol administrator position with the Knox County Sheriff's Office under new Sheriff Tim Carroll, but in the end returned to the deputy director position.

Camden Fire Chief Chris Farley, who is chair of the executive board for the Knox County Regional Communications Center, said there have been issues surrounding retention of employees in communications, as well as morale.

He said he believes progress had been made in the past 18 to 24 months, but said the meeting could set that back. The executive board does not deal with personnel or operations but only policy, Farley said.

Hart said there was a glitch in the software that led to the broadcast's continuing even after it was supposed to be turned off. The meeting was taken down from the site Thursday afternoon. Courier-Gazette staff viewed the meeting before it was deleted.

Hart said he did not want to discuss what was said during the meeting, since it was an executive session.

Communications Director Linwood Lothrop, who has directed the dispatch center since it was created as a regional communications center and merged with Rockland dispatch, could not be reached for comment Friday.

State law requires that if an employee is to be discussed by a board in a closed-door session, that person must be notified in advance and offered an opportunity to attend. Hart was in attendance at the meeting, but Lothrop was not there.

Commission Chair Richard "Rick" Parent did not return a message left by phone Friday.

One issue raised at the commissioners meeting was whether communications should remain under the same jurisdiction as it is now, or be under the Sheriff's Office.

Farley said since municipalities pay for the service, they should have input.

In a statement issued Friday, Carroll said communications doesn't need to be under the Sheriff's Office. "I think there is a lot of validity to the executive board that does it now," Carroll said.

The Sheriff's Office's participation was" allowing the asset we have with Wally Tower's experience, skill set, and leadership to properly manage the day-to-day operations of the Communication Center," he said.

"The one thing that needs to be recognized is, whatever the internal strife there may be inside, the public is still receiving a professionally operated communications center that I would match with any in the state. The personnel does their job very well and the people of Knox County are safer for it," the sheriff said.

Farley said municipalities receive a good service from the communications center.

At the closed-door meeting, county officials also said that the service is good, but there is a lot of back-stabbing by employees and that the problems are worse when work is slow.

Commissioners also pointed out that the job of a dispatcher is a high-pressure one performed in a confined space.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Feb 17, 2019 14:19

Glitches happen in every organization made up of human beings. It may be best that this came to light and allow things to move forward. Some very dedicated personnel there who do a difficult job totally behind the scenes.   Fine reporting that left me with a good taste in my mouth.



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