Sheriff’s office will oversee Metro 911
The Kanawha County Metro 911 Center's executive board voted to transfer control of the center to the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department during a special meeting Thursday.
The agreement will take effect Jan. 1 when John Rutherford takes over as sheriff. Rutherford has served as interim 911 director since August.
He resigned as Kanawha County chief deputy to run for sheriff and was unopposed in the race.
Rutherford will now oversee the Metro 911 Center along with his other duties, which include supervising the tax department and the patrol division. However, the new duty will not come with additional compensation.
The Metro 911 director receives about $80,000 a year in salary and about $20,000 in benefits.
As sheriff, Rutherford is paid an annual salary of $44,880. The sheriff can also receive up to $15,000 in commission for collecting more than 90 percent of the taxes due to the county, Chief Tax Deputy Allen Bleigh said.
"I'll be taking a substantial pay cut," John Rutherford said. "But this is the right thing to do."
Although the sheriff will officially oversee the 911 Center, it still will have an executive director on staff, said Rick Atkinson, board president. This is because the Metro 911 bylaws require an executive director, he said.
The executive director will handle the day-to-day operations of the center, Atkinson said. But that person also will report to the Kanawha County sheriff.
Atkinson would like to see one of the deputy 911 directors promoted to the position. Atkinson foresees that person receiving a raise but not making the $80,000 previously paid.
"We'll still have a substantial savings," County Manager Jennifer Sayre said.
Sayre is Commission President Kent Carper's appointee to the 911 board.
Atkinson hopes to have a new executive director appointed by the first of the year.
The agreement with the sheriff's department must be renewed every year, Atkinson said. Either party can terminate the agreement with a 60-day notice.
Atkinson said he sees no reason why the sheriff's department would not continue to oversee the 911 for the foreseeable future.
"As long as both parties are happy with it, I don't see any reason to change the agreement," he said.
Atkinson is confident Rutherford will not be overwhelmed by his new duties.
"I have no reservations about that," he said. "Johnny is a detail-oriented manager, but he doesn't micromanage."
Atkinson would have had reservations about turning over oversight of the center to the sheriff's department if Rutherford had not taken over the operation six months ago.
He is now very familiar with the inner workings of the 911 Center, Atkinson added.
Rutherford also is confident about the change.
"It's going to be a challenge," he said. "But Kanawha County is fortunate to have good employees in the sheriff's department and the 911 Center."
The board members decided to turn the oversight over to the sheriff's department because a massive upgrade of dispatching equipment and the phone system will be enacted sometime this spring.
"I think it would be a distraction to bring someone in while we do this transition," Atkinson said.
The new Computer Aided Dispatch system, which should go live in March, cost the county about $1 million. The upgrades to the phone system at the center cost another $1 million, Sayre said.
Another reason for the management change is Rutherford's performance as interim director, Atkinson said.
"Everyone would agree that Johnny has done an excellent job," she said.
The decision had nothing to do with a pending lawsuit against the 911 Center and the county commission, Atkinson said.
In September, Laura Wilson, former 911 operations director, filed a lawsuit claiming that her whistle blower rights had been violated.
Wilson claims she was reassigned after she complained to Atkinson regarding the wasteful, improper, and/or illegal spending practices of former director Carolyn Charnock.
Wilson alleges the existence of a slush fund at the 911 Center that has been used for personal expenditures. County commissioners and other officials have flatly denied the allegations.
The case is still pending before Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom.
Five members of the 911 board voted to approve the agreement. Sheriff Mike Rutherford, John Rutherford's older brother, abstained.
Board member Grant Gunnoe, director of Charleston's office of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, did not attend the meeting.
The sheriff's budget and the Metro 911 budget will remain separate and autonomous, according to the agreement. No money will be transferred between the two.