The gift of gab

During Wednesday’s work session on increasing the 911 tax, the men in the room far outnumbered the women. In addition to the all-male roster of county commissioners, county administrator and director of the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, there were male representatives from fire districts and other emergency response agencies.

And it was the men who had the biggest reaction to a comment by Commissioner Tom Mielke.

CRESA Director Tom Griffith was telling commissioners why 911 dispatchers can’t take on additional work, which would be necessary if commissioners didn’t increase the monthly excise tax from 50 cents to 70 cents. Ten dispatchers would be laid off, Griffith said.

Griffith was describing how he marvels at how fluidly dispatchers switch between conversations, as a dispatcher is often carrying on two conversations at once. A dispatcher might be relaying information to a police officer while also taking a call from a citizen who is reporting a crime or calling for medical help, for example.

It’s difficult to keep all the facts straight, Griffith said.

“Isn’t that the reason we have women to do that work?” Mielke asked.

Well, that stopped the discussion.

Commissioner Marc Boldt looked at me writing in my notebook and said, “That wasn’t me who said that.”

The rumblings in the room prompted Mielke to add, “That’s a compliment, by the way.”

It’s true that the majority of emergency dispatchers in Clark County are women, said Anna Pendergrass, dispatch operations manager.

Of 52 dispatchers, 41 are women. Three of the four dispatch supervisors are women.

The men do as good of a job as the women at rapidly comprehending and relaying information, Pendergrass said.

As for Mielke, he had a little trouble on Wednesday understanding why CRESA had $800,000 in new expenses this year.

Griffith explained that since commissioners didn’t increase the excise tax last year, the state withheld $500,000 from the state 911 fund as a penalty for not taxing the max. So that was a hefty tab for CRESA to take on. The other $300,000 was for maintenance of the new computer-aided dispatch system.

So the state used to give us $800,000? Mielke asked.

No, Griffith said, explaining again about the $500,000 not paid by the state and $300,000 in new maintenance charges.

Mielke also was confused when Griffith said a portion of the tax revenue would go into a fund to be used when the county has to convert its outdated analog radio system to digital.

Didn’t we just get a new system? Mielke asked.

No, Griffith said. The $3 million dispatch software from Intergraph Corporation — a tricked-out system with features including maps that allow dispatchers to track, with updates every several seconds, where police cars and fire engines are as they rush to a fire or other emergency — is different from the county’s radio system.

OK, Mielke said. But one more question: “What was the increase that created the shortage?”

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