Friday, December 15, 2006

Dryden Emergency Services

I wish I'd reported on the last Town Board meeting before this article was published. In fact, I wish I'd followed my instinct and invited the fire chiefs to the meeting. The reporter, Tiffany Edwards, seems like a nice enough person whose main handicap is being very new in town. But she has described the fire department issue using several concepts that I specifically told her were not what we're talking about. We're not talking about mediation. It's really not a dispute. And we certainly haven't decided anything.

As the fire chiefs know, the Town Board has been considering for more than a year, creating a staff position for an emergency services coordinator. Emergency services are hugely important in the town and are a major budget item. It's difficult for Board members to make long range plans for emergency services and we rely heavily on the expertise of the chiefs of the four departments. When they disagree it becomes impossibly time consuming to collect enough information to reach a reasonable solution.

So, it seems like a good idea to hire someone to help sort this out. And it seems like this person could help save time and aggravation for the chiefs as well as for the board members. But I think it's important to remember that the chiefs are the chiefs. They're the ones with the information necessary for any decision making. (I will say, the Town could have collected and synthesized better information over the years this discussion has been going on - but we didn't)

I've had more than enough of "He said..." "She said..." (although there isn't actually any "she" except me.) The Town Board meets on a regular basis and the Fire Chiefs meet regularly. But at least in the past year we've never met all together. The chiefs have all been present at public Town Board meetings a couple of times. But those meetings are not conducive to discussion.

I think we all have the same goal: to provide the best emergency services we can for the most reasonable cost. Now we need to clarify that and begin working on how to achieve it. A paid coordinator won't help if the chiefs won't talk to him or her or if they don't agree on the goal or if they have conflicting sub-agendas of their own.

I've worked with Community Dispute Resolution Center facilitators on other projects. They are excellent at keeping meetings focused and assuring that everyone is heard. I want them to help board members talk to and listen to chiefs. I don't go to chiefs meetings, but just for once, I want to be sure the chiefs are talking and listening to each other. If we go forward with the paid coordinator position, that person will be responsible for making recommendations to the board. We need to be sure that the chiefs feel they are fairly represented or we'll only be adding a new layer to an already contentious situation. Before we hire someone and throw them to the lions - well, I want to say something about feeding the lions, but that sounds condescending. I just want to be sure the Fire Chiefs think it's a good idea and will try to work with him/her.


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