April 2015 Editorial Winner

A good thing

Wayne Trotter, Countywide & Sun

The agreement between the Pottawatomie County Enhanced 9-1-1 Trust Authority and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation on dispatching service is positive for the county, the tribe, agencies currently served by the trust and a majority of county residents. To the extent that Pottawatomie County will still have two taxpayer-funded organizations doing essentially the same job on similar expensive equipment, it is not so positive.
But as good public servants often have to remind themselves, you can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. In this case, the perfect would have been merging the 9-1-1 centers in Shawnee and Tecumseh. But talks between the county trust and Shawnee had been going on for years and some of the issues — especially the question of control — were almost as old as the county itself. It was becoming apparent that those talks were on a slow track to nowhere.
The 9-1-1 trust had another big problem.
It needed more money and for a second time the voters it serves had rejected an increase in the 9-1-1 landline fee (yes, that’s really a tax).
No matter what the fee, landlines are and will continue to be a declining source of revenue because while most businesses still need them, individuals and families are giving up landlines in favor of cell phones.
No 9-1-1 operation in Oklahoma gets enough off the cells because while it’s more expensive to ascertain their locations, the monthly fee for cell phones has been set by the Legislature at an insufficient 50 cents a month. Maybe the Legislature will eventually get around to increasing that but the telephone lobby is strong, organized and very professional. That’s hard to match.
The trust was in a quandary. What to do?
What to do?
About that time, John A. “Rocky” Barrett, the longtime chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, came to a meeting between the county commissioners and trust members and made a surprise proposal.
The tribe, Mr. Barrett said, was not only willing to handle calls and dispatching with the trust’s existing employees, it would do that using only the cash flow from the landlines and the cell phones. Since Tecumseh, the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Department and other “customers” have been paying for dispatching, that amounted to a bonus. The county also would benefit because the trust had been receiving a slice of the county’s sales tax money.
After holding several meetings to discuss the situation, the trust asked for bids. The only legitimate response was from the CPN and the tribe agreed to almost everything the trust was seeking. The City of Shawnee submitted a letter that said it could not bid because of “legal constraints” but invited the trust to continue discussing a merger.
The trust board voted unanimously to accept the CPN bid. The 911 center will be moved from its crowded quarters in Tecumseh to tribal land and the CPN will operate it. The goal for making the move is July 1.
The biggest unanswered question at this point is what happens to Tommy Arnold, the trust’s 9-1-1 director who also handles county mapping. Mr. Arnold has done a good job and ought to be kept, but these plans don’t leave a lot of room for him. After the changeover, the trust will become a financial funnel and unless the county continues to send some of the sales tax money, the trust won’t have the money to pay a staffer of its own. The logical solution is to have him oversee 9-1-1 operations for the trust and the county while continuing to do the mapping. There are some insurance issues that need to be solved but Tommy Arnold needs to be kept either as a trust or a county employee.
The CPN and the 9-1-1 trust are about to embark on an interesting and potentially very important partnership. Tribal governments are increasing their impact on the daily lives of Oklahomans including Oklahomans who are not tribal members. The Citizen Potawatomis have been at the forefront of that renaissance and is now the largest employer in Pottawatomie County. While there has been some cooperation between local and tribal governments on such things as road improvements, joint ventures such as this one remain rare. This can be a shining example of working together for the good of all the people.
This isn’t perfection but no one has time to wait for that to come along. This is “the good.”
We’re pulling for it to work.

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