A member of the Emergency Communications Center staff will take over the dispatch center’s reins on an interim basis, if a recommendation from the center management board’s executive committee is approved.
Gerald Smith, who serves as the center’s senior systems analyst and project manager, was chosen by the committee after a Tuesday closed-door session. The recommendation will go before the full board at its April 9 meeting.
The communications center receives all 911 calls in the Charlottesville, Albemarle County and University of Virginia areas and serves as central dispatch for three police departments, local fire departments and emergency medical responders. It also provides coordinated emergency management among the three jurisdictions.
Smith has been with the communications center for 19 years. He leads the center’s computer-assisted dispatch system, also known as CAD.
Smith, who attended the executive committee meeting to discuss issues with the CAD system, including a closed-door session regarding CAD contracts, left before the committee took its vote in open session.
If approved by the full board, Smith will replace ECC board member Tom Berry, who has served as acting interim director since the board’s previous director, Barry Neulen, resigned March 11.
Berry is UVa’s executive director of emergency management. He joined the board on Feb. 13.
Executive committee members praised Berry for filling in and working with staff members who were shocked and angered by Neulen’s sudden departure, many blaming the board for his resignation.
Berry said he found the dispatching staff to be very dedicated to their jobs and to the community.
“I believe that all of us, the staff and the board, only want what’s best for the community,” he said.
The executive committee also agreed to rewrite the ECC director’s job description and advertise it as “open until filled,” beginning April 4.
Board member and UVa Vice President for Safety and Security Gloria Graham, who is chairwoman of the board’s search committee, said the board should review resumes as they come in.
“If we see someone we’re interested in, it’s important to reach out and let them know as soon as possible,” she said.
The communications center has only had a director for six of the last 18 months. Neulen took over the post Oct. 1 after two previous search efforts failed — one candidate turned down the job offer and the other search failed to find a suitable candidate.
Neulen was the topic of several board executive sessions to discuss his performance before he offered his resignation. He also faced criticism by some board members for his efforts at trying to arrange an emergency staffing contract with Homeland Security Solutions Inc., or HSSI, a company with which he had previously dealt while in another job.
The effort was recommended by Albemarle County purchasing officials to fill a dozen empty dispatch center positions.
Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney criticized the company Neulen chose as being mostly white, military veterans and former government contractors. She also questioned Neulen’s previous use of the company and why other companies were not contacted.
The board approved the emergency funding request with Brackney, Graham and UVa Police Chief Tommye Sutton in opposition.
The approval was rescinded a month later on a unanimous vote after county purchasing agents were delayed in publishing the contract. Board members then approved advertising request for quotes for any company willing to make an offer on the contract.
That request closed on Feb. 25. There were no bids.
In a March 19 letter to Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker, HSSI President Steve Cameron said he declined to bid on the contract when it came open.
“Due to the hostile environment created by Chief Brackney, I decided not to bid because I did not want my employees to be a part of this environment,” Cameron wrote.
He wrote that “Chief Brackney’s slanderous comments are insulting” and that his company is 51 percent minority; 46 percent military veterans with 21 percent of those disabled veterans; 49 percent women and 51 percent male.
Dispatchers had praised Neulen for his efforts at trying to ease their workload and mandatory overtime. During his tenure, the center hired 10 new dispatch personnel, but officials say it could take seven months to a year before they all are fully trained to work each of the center’s posts.
New hires will take dispatching classroom training online but will need to be trained in the dispatch center by current staff. While staff members are training the hires, off-duty dispatchers will need to fill in for those doing the training, officials said. That will create similar long hours and mandatory overtime that dispatchers have said is what is burning them out in the first place.