911 Board searches for new Central Dispatch Director

The 911 Board met on Tuesday, March 17 to establish the criteria for the new Central Dispatch Director after voting to terminate Director Gay Murrell on March 12.

After voting last week to terminate 911 Central Dispatch Director Gay Murrell for breach of contract, the 911 board met again on Tuesday, March 17 to iron out its plan to hire a new director.

Chairman Mike Herrell reported to the board on March 12 that Murrell had allowed dispatchers who had not yet obtained EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatching) certifications to answer emergency 911 calls.

This is actually the second time in just a few months that this issue has occurred.

Readers may remember back in November when questions surrounding the EMD certifications of several HCECD (Hawkins Co. Emergency Communications District dispatchers) resulted in all staff having to be re-certified by an onsite instructor. A full training audit of all staff members also took place because more than half were said to be non-compliant with EMD certifications.

Though all staff were back in compliance with EMD certifications in just a few days, this process cost the HCECD around $8,800 and could easily have led to legal ramifications.

According to Herrell, Murrell’s employment contract specifies that she is responsible for ensuring all staff is appropriately trained.

When Herrell reported to the board what he had seen, he told the Review that they then asked for his recommendation on how to move forward.

“I gave a report to the board, they asked my recommendations, and I recommended either to terminate her or give her 30 days off work, and the board went with termination,” he said.

Murrell was not present at the March 12 meeting, as she’d gone home sick that day; thus, the board voted to allow her 15 business days to appeal the decision. At the March 17 meeting, Herrell noted that Murrell had not yet appealed the decision.

In the meantime, the board voted at the March 12 meeting for Caitlin Smith to be in charge of operations and Chucky Johnson to be over administration until a new director is hired. Both previously worked at Central Dispatch as dispatchers.

In regard to establishing required qualifications, Herrell noted that he “could not find the qualifications here for a director,” so he suggested using the job description that Williamson County, Tennessee used for their Director as a jumping-off point.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been up here (at Central Dispatch) the last few days, and we kind of need to do it pretty quick if we can,” he said. “Chucky and Caitlin are doing a good job, but there’s a lot of stuff they are learning and a lot of stuff I’m learning. There’s more here than I guess I realized. And all of the dispatchers are working lots of overtime right now.”

Williamson County required among other things that the director hold “extensive experience with progressive growth in responsibility in Emergency Communications/911 and have excellent communication, coordination and crisis intervention skills.” It also specified that “a Bachelor’s Degree in related field is preferred” and the director will “coordinate and communicate with agencies being dispatched, coordinate with technical and operational staff regarding availability of 911 system equipment,” and “assist in budget preparation process, overall budget requests, monitoring budget status and forecasts” among other things.

“This is just something to go by,” Herrell said of the job description. “We can change it or add to it—whatever you all want to do.”

Board member Lawrence Wheeler suggested that the board utilize APCO (Association of Public Safety Communications Officials) for the search.

“There’s two sides to APCO, and you (previously) dealt with APCO Institute, and the other side is APCO International, which is a membership organization,” he said. “All of the full-time dispatchers here are members of Tennessee APCO.”

Herrell also suggested advertising the position with TEMA (Tennessee Emergency Management Agency).

The Williamson County description also listed a salary range of $68,806-$86,008, though numerous board members noted that this would have to be changed for Hawkins County.

Murrell’s yearly salary was roughly $36,904.

“I think, if you’re going to have a Director, they should have dispatch training also,” Herrell added.

“I think a bachelor’s degree would be a plus, but it shouldn’t be required,” Sheriff Ronnie Lawson added.

In the end, the board agreed to take a few days to look over the job description, make changes and draft a description that would work for the county. The 911 board Personnel Committee will then meet again to finalize the job description and establish a cut-off date for applications.

“I have noticed that, since we’ve made changes, we have had a lot of applications for dispatch and other stuff,” Herrell told the board. “And I’ve had several people ask me about the Director’s job. Actually, I had one person out of Kingsport ask about it.”

Herrell also noted that the board cannot officially post the position until Murrell has had 15 business days to appeal the board’s decision to terminate her. These 15 days will be over on April 2.