In 1975, President Gerald Ford refused federal aid to New York City, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, prompting this New York Daily News headline: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.”
That headline came to mind one week ago because, as reported in last week’s edition of your favorite weekly newspaper, the Grant County Board Law Enforcement Committee told the City of Platteville what it could do with a request to fund half of a study of consolidating Platteville and Grant County public safety dispatch services.
When I brought up the committee’s vote at last week’s Common Council meeting, no one — including two of the four aldermen who want to study combining city and county dispatch — expressed surprise. This is the second time in the past year that the committee has given that response to the city. That should be the last time the city asks.
(Hence this week’s headline, which is police 10-code for “Notify coroner.”)
What first comes to mind is that given about how tight the 2014 city budget is, why should the city spend $15,000 to $25,000 — the estimate of Police Chief Doug McKinley — to fund a study given that at least three aldermen are opposed to merging city and county dispatch even before a study? (Of course, $18,000 would become instantly available by the council’s eliminating their own pay, but that’s a subject for another time — say, next week.) There is no study funding in the current iteration of the 2014 city budget, nor should there be.
The supervisor of county dispatch gave a far too rosy picture of what merging city and county dispatch would do at the Aug. 27 Common Council meeting he and Sheriff Nate Dreckman attended. Given the reliability rate of computers, software and handheld GPS devices, to assert that county dispatchers know Platteville as well as city dispatchers cannot possibly be correct. More importantly, given how many Platteville residents aren’t very familiar with Platteville, to think someone calling for help is guaranteed to know and be able to communicate where he or she is is more unlikely in Platteville than in any other part of Grant County.
Here’s what I find interesting about the Law Enforcement Committee: Not a single committee member — Sups. John Beinborn of Cuba City, Lester Jantzen of Potosi, Vince Loeffelholz of Cuba City, John Patcle of Potosi, Robert Scallon of Boscobel, Pat Schroeder of Lancaster nor Larry Wolf of Lancaster — represents any part of the City of Platteville. (Beinborn represents one ward of the Town of Platteville.) The committee includes no representation at all of the county’s largest city (which totals one-fourth of the entire county’s population, the city with the largest percentage of non-permanent residents (UW–Platteville students), and the city with the highest volume of police calls.
One wonders how the county supervisors who represent Platteville — Sups. Carol Beals, Dale Hood, Dwight Nelson and Mark Stead — feel about what their County Board colleagues apparently think about Platteville. (From what I understand, the anti-Platteville animus is long-standing on the County Board. Answer this question: Grant County without Platteville is …?) About one-fourth of Grant County lives in Platteville, which means three-fourths of Grant County does not live in Platteville. If anything, instead of a 50–50 funding split Grant County should be willing to fund three-fourths of the study.
It would seem that Grant County, as represented by the Law Enforcement Committee, isn’t convinced this is a good idea even before a study takes place. Dreckman seemed less than enthusiastic about the idea when he met with the Common Council because he has bigger fish to fry, so to speak — trying to get the County Board to approve a Law Enforcement Center renovation, including an expansion of the jail.
(Astute readers may have noticed that Dreckman seemed to say one thing to the Common Council and something else to the County Board. That proves that sheriffs are politicians too, although you’d think Dreckman’s bosses are the voters of Grant County, not the Law Enforcement Committee.)
The four aldermen who pushed for the study should be given credit for, in the words of District 3 Ald. Barb Daus, trying to “control and collaborate on these costs.” Daus is also correct in saying “We should all be working toward the betterment of the citizens we serve,” but the only citizens Platteville aldermen officially serve — the only people who vote for their continued service — are residents of the City of Platteville, and residents of Platteville should be their overriding priority.
Moreover, change and progress are not the same thing. Similar to the study of Southwest Health Center’s taking over Platteville EMS services, saving taxpayer dollars is not a good enough reason by itself to change what presently works well; nor is improving services while totally ignoring added costs.
The irony is that we had an example two weeks ago of how well law enforcement in Southwest Wisconsin works together — the manhunt for and eventual capture of James M. Kruger (see page 1). Grant County and city dispatch work together as well, the former transferring cellular 911 calls to the latter (which is good reason for Platteville residents to program the police phone number, 348-2313, into their cellphones). The elected officials responsible for overseeing the work of city and county employees apparently do not follow the example of those they oversee.
Ultimately shifting dispatch services to Grant County means shifting the responsibility for the safety of the citizens of Platteville on the Grant County Board, and specifically the 13 who do not represent Platteville. Are you willing to trust them with your safety?