After a protracted process to find consistent leadership, the Charlottesville-UVA-Albemarle County Emergency Communications Center on Thursday announced its next executive director.
Larry “Sonny” Saxton Jr., a 25-year public-safety veteran, was chosen from 11 candidates for the position. The ECC management board unanimously approved his appointment, which starts Aug. 26, during a meeting Thursday.
“His record of public service and direct experience working in and leading an emergency communications center and emergency management at complex organizations will prove invaluable,” Gloria Graham, associate vice president for safety and security for the University of Virginia and chairwoman of the ECC management board, said in a statement.
The center handles emergency communications and 911 calls for the city, county and UVa, with appointed officials from each serving on its board.
The county is the administrative agent for the center and handles its personnel and budgetary responsibilities.
Board members and county staff said Thursday that they did not know what Saxton’s salary will be.
Saxton, who was not at the meeting, has been deputy director of communications at Mercy Emergency Services Communications Center in Springfield, Missouri, since 2003. He also has been a public-safety consultant throughout the United States and Canada since 2004.
He began his public-safety career serving as a firefighter, EMT and paramedic in Aurora, Missouri, for nearly a decade.
Saxton also served as emergency management director for Aurora before taking a job as EMS manager and supervisor at Mercy EMS, according to a press release.
“With a continued focus on best practices, emerging technology, stewardship and collaboration, I look forward to serving the needs of this diverse and growing region,” Saxton said in the release.
Saxton also has served as president of the Missouri National Emergency Number Association and was a governor’s appointee and vice-chairman of the Missouri 9-1-1 Service Board.
He earned a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s in information technology services from Penn State University.
The ECC has lacked a steady designated leader since longtime director Tom Hanson resigned in October 2017.
The board had Hanson’s replacement decided, but the candidate didn’t take the job. Todd Richardson, the center’s operations director and second-in-command, was then appointed interim director.
Barry Neulen was hired in October 2018, but resigned in March. He was only hired after two previous search efforts for an interim director failed.
Neulen’s tenure was marked by months of contentious disagreement and criticism by several board members during public meetings and closed-door meetings held to discuss his performance.
After Neulen resigned, Gerald Smith, the center’s senior systems analyst, was given the interim manager’s duties.
Neulen also faced criticism by some board members for his efforts to try to arrange an emergency staffing contract with Homeland Security Solutions Inc., or HSSI, a company with which he previously had dealt while in another job.
The effort was recommended by Albemarle County purchasing officials to fill a dozen empty dispatch center positions.
The board approved the emergency funding request in January. However, 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 a request for quotes for any company willing to make an offer on the contract.
That request closed on Feb. 25 with no bids. The center is still seeking dispatchers to fill vacancies.
Much of the contention between Neulen and board members that occurred in open meetings revolved around Neulen’s efforts to ease overtime burdens on overworked dispatchers.
“Stability in any leadership role … helps with recruitment, retention and the ability to move the mission forward,” Charlottesville Police Chief and ECC board member RaShall Brackney said after Thursday’s meeting.