Updated at 9:18 p.m.
The area’s emergency communications center is once again without a permanent leader as its director resigned Monday after six months on the job.
Barry C. Neulen officially started the job Oct. 1, at which time the Charlottesville-University of Virginia-Albemarle County Emergency Communications Center had gone without a permanent director for a year.
Neulen often faced criticism by members of the center’s board and was the topic of several board executive sessions to discuss his performance and responsibilities.
His resignation was unanimously accepted by the board.
UVa’s executive director of emergency management, Tom Berry, who joined the ECC management board Feb. 13, was named interim director effective Monday.
“I look forward to serving our regional emergency communications center and to continue delivering professional and quality services to our community during this time of transition,” Berry said in a prepared statement sent out by email immediately after the board accepted Neulen’s resignation.
The board includes fire and police chiefs and administrators from all three jurisdictions.
The center receives all 911 calls in the Charlottesville area and serves as the central dispatch for three police departments and all local emergency medical responders and fire departments. It also provides coordinated emergency management among the three jurisdictions.
The loss of Neulen did not sit well with the center’s dispatchers, who came to work to find the director’s office cleaned out and empty.
Many took to social media, calling Neulen “great for the center” and criticizing the board for not working with him. Some criticized Berry for not stopping to talk to dispatchers after being appointed interim director.
Others counseled each other to “dust off resumes” and look for other jobs.
Neulen took over the emergency dispatch center at a time when it was short a dozen staff members. Current staff said long hours, mandatory overtime and the need to train new recruits had left many burned out and exhausted.
The center had been without a director for a year with Todd Richardson, the center’s dispatch operations manager, taking on the extra duties.
The center’s managing board conducted three searches within that year, during which one candidate turned down the job. The board closed the second search after failing to find a candidate.
Using a consultant for the first two searches, the board then handed over the recruitment process to Albemarle County, which administers the center’s budget and personnel matters. Neulen was hired during this third search process.
But Neulen’s effort to seek contract help to make up a dispatcher shortage was a source of conflict between the director and several board members.
Neulen sought an emergency contract with a company with which he had dealt while at a previous job. He was questioned about his connection to the company and why other firms were not contacted.
At one meeting, Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney, a strong critic of Neulen during board meetings, read from several emails that she said she obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The emails were between Neulen, the company and other board members.
Although the board in January approved the emergency contract for training of dispatchers, it rescinded the agreement in February, saying the three weeks that had passed between approving the contract and it being published was long enough to let the contract go through the regular process.
Members then approved advertising a request for quotes for any company to make an offer on the contract. That request closed at 3 p.m. Feb. 25. No contract has been issued.
At several meetings, the board closed its doors specifically to discuss the director’s job. After a lengthy closed-door meeting Monday, board members approved Neulen’s resignation with little comment before moving on to other matters, including the center’s next fiscal year budget.
The board’s prepared statement indicated that “the members thanked Mr. Neulen for his service to the region.”
“We’ll be conducting a new search and we’ll likely explore some other options as to our recruitment of a new director,” Doug Walker, the board’s chairman and deputy Albemarle County executive, said after the meeting. “We’re not entirely sure what those options will be, but we have three jurisdictions with expertise in management searches.”
Walker noted that the membership of the board that accepted Neulen’s resignation was not the same as the board that approved his hiring.
“When you have people coming on and off the board, you are going to have different expectations from the board members,” he said. “As we sit down to begin the search, we will identify what it is that the board is seeking in a new director.”
Walker appointed a search committee with Albemarle County Chief of Police Ron Lantz, Charlottesville Fire Chief Andrew Baxter and UVa Vice President for Safety and Security Gloria Graham as members. Graham will chair the committee.