February 2015 Editorial Winner

A wrinkle in time

Wayne Trotter, Countywide & Sun

We were just as surprised as everyone else when John A. “Rocky” Barrett, the longtime chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, showed up at a joint meeting of the Pottawatomie County Commissioners and the county’s E9-1-1 Trust Board this week with a new proposal on how to provide people who live in the county but outside the Shawnee city limits emergency 9-1-1 service.
Interesting. Perhaps even more than that.
We don’t know all the details yet and we certainly understand that there’s many a slip between the cup and the lips, but our initial reaction is that the tribe’s proposal is (1) worth studying, (2) worth considering and (3) if all goes right, perhaps finally worth implementing.
In other words, let’s face the facts. The county and Shawnee have been trying to merge their two duplicatory 9-1-1 systems for what seems like forever and a day and just can’t seem to get anywhere. As District Attorney Richard Smothermon explained at the same meeting, the question remains who will be in control.
Essentially, that is a nut the two sides can’t seem to crack.
Who’s to blame for that? Practically everybody and practically nobody. The whole thing is a mess only government could concoct.
People who live out in the county already pay a much higher landline telephone fee (read that “tax”) than their cousins in Shawnee are assessed … and as county voters have twice emphatically demonstrated at the polls, they simply aren’t willing to pay more. Putting the two systems together with that inequity would not only be diffi cult, it also would be unfair.
Count that as Nonstarter No. 1.
Complicating that reality is the fact that landlines are a shrinking asset and the revenues they produce are shrinking as well.
So what did our friends in the Oklahoma Legislature do? Why they set the fee (“tax” again) on the growing cell phone market at 50 cents a month per phone. The problem with that is that cell phones move around with their users, so it’s harder and therefore more expensive to ascertain just where an emergency call from a cell phone is coming from. Fifty cents just doesn’t cut it. Landline users outside Shawnee pay varying fees but it’s always more than a half-buck a month. The legislature may address that at this session … but then again it may not. Thank you, lawmakers.
Make that Nonstarter No. 2.
The historical truth is that whenever Shawnee and Pottawatomie County begin talking about anything, the question of control is always in the background. That happened a few years ago when the issue was economic development. The two sides never got together.
The 9-1-1 dispute looks like a rerun. We know it’s silly but Mr. Smothermon is right. Every discussion seems to come down to control … even if nobody ever says so in public. OK. Nonstarter No. 3.
It would be better if the county and Shawnee could get together on this, merge their two systems, incorporate an equitable tax structure and get to work protecting all the people of Pottawatomie County in the most effective and most efficient manner. For the record and once and for all, there is no dispute on where that office should be. For a number of good reasons, it should be in the basement of Shawnee City
Hall. That is not a nonstarter.
But if that merger is going to happen ... and it looks like it isn’t … a cooperative effort between the county and the CPN could well be the best second choice. A large portion (but not all) of both entities overlap and the tribe brings financial advantages to the table that the county doesn’t and never will have.
As outlined by Chairman Barrett, the county would realize immediate savings by getting together.
Would there be a question of control? Most likely. The county and the tribe would have to work together on that in a more constructive way than Shawnee and the county traditionally have, or Nonstarter No. 4 would emerge. It would be a governmental tragedy if that occurred.
After all, this is not a question of who’s on top. This is all about getting emergency services to all the people of Pottawatomie County, tribal and nontribal, as quickly and effectively as possible. This is about ambulances, firefighters, law officers and human lives.
What could be more important?

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