A unified Spokane City Council voted Monday to slow the push toward combining the region’s response to 911 calls.
Lawmakers cited concerns from emergency responders and the continued lack of information from the mayor’s office about the shift.
“I’m sure this will be a point of contention moving forward,” said City Council President Ben Stuckart, who took the rare step of suspending the rules to add the ordinance to Monday night’s agenda before garnering unanimous support for the proposal. “I’m just trying to make it so we can have a public discussion about this.”
Brian Coddington, a spokesman for Mayor David Condon, said the office was notified of the council’s plans to vote on the ordinance by email about an hour before Monday night’s meeting began. Condon, and City Administrator Theresa Sanders, have been pushing to combine the efforts of police and fire to respond to calls, and received some commitment from city lawmakers to explore the concept in the joint strategic plan the parties agreed to late last year.
“The mayor’s response was, this is unfortunate, we’ve been working together to transform city services,” Coddington said after Monday’s meeting. “It’s a conversation that needs to continue, rather than taking hasty action.”
Stuckart, along with all his colleagues, said the action was taken because of vocal concern from city employees who believe the current system of responding to calls is working. Under that system, a first-line of 911 operators fields emergency calls, which are then routed to specialized police and fire dispatchers that are working in separate offices at the region’s Combined Communications Center near Spokane Community College. The new system is intended to get those calls to specialized dispatchers faster, but it would also mean that workers currently receiving their paychecks from the city would instead be supervised under a new governance system.
In late May, members of the council questioned Sanders and representatives of Stuart Consulting Group overseeing the transition, asking to see data showing that changing the system would cut down response times. Questions had been sent in writing regarding a business plan and more data on response times. City Councilman Breean Beggs was provided some information late Monday, he said, but it didn’t answer all of the council’s concerns.
“I think the administration absolutely wants to get us the data,” Beggs said. But he supported the ordinance, which leaves the current structure in place and requires City Council approval before any agreement that affects Spokane employees.
City Councilman Mike Fagan, often a voice of dissent on the panel, voted in favor of Stuckart’s proposal.
“We’re not talking about casting a vote on a million, or a $2 million street project here,” Fagan said. “We are talking about the potential for lost lives.”
A letter sent to Stuckart by dispatchers for the Spokane Police Department on July 9 called the integration proposal “needless change.”
“Officer safety is our priority and we believe this proposal does nothing to improve it,” they wrote. The Spokane Police Guild, Lieutenants and Captains Association, Spokane Firefighters Local 29 and Local 270, representing the city’s clerical workers, have all voiced concerns about the change.
Coddington said the mayor’s office would review the ordinance and determine a path forward.
“A lot of work’s been done, but there’s still a lot of work left to do,” he said.