ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
by Jerry Engler
Allegations of nepotism, mismanagement and mishandling of funds by the Department of Communications in its relationship with the Sheriff’s Office overshadowed completion of the transfer-station purchase contract Monday at the Marion County Commission meeting.
Ronald Mueller, Emergency Medical Services training officer for northern Marion County, Tampa firefighter and member-at-large of the Marion County Communications Board, asked the commission to have the county attorney investigate alleged emergency-communication problems and possible violations of Marion County nepotism policy by Communications Director Michele Abbot-Becker and Sheriff Lee Becker, who are married to each other.
Mueller, who was accompanied by Tampa Fire Chief Jesse Brunner and Lincolnville fireman David Kaiser, said he came to the meeting also out of concern that the lack of good radio communications for emergency personnel in northern Marion County may be causing unnecessary losses of life and property.
“I feel this end of the county is being neglected,” Mueller said. “I am here for the victims.”
Mueller said emergency personnel attempting to call dispatch at the sheriff’s office in Marion either can’t hear or are repeatedly told they can’t be heard. He said that in one emergency, he became so frustrated, “I damn near threw the radio in the ditch.”
Mueller said his allegations are backed by facts he presented to commissioners in a 48-page, nine-chapter report that also alleges:
n repeated illegal use of 911 funds;
n false statements regarding domination of the Communications Advisory Board by law enforcement;
n use of money without bids on a study by Ka-Com;
n Mueller as a board member is being charged for copies on business proceedings by the sheriff;
n by-laws not being followed;
n Abbot-Becker responding in person to the Lincolnville bank robbery;
n using the sheriff’s patrol truck for personal business when she is not a law-enforcement officer.
Mueller said commissioners should separate law enforcement and communications and thereby prevent personal agendas that benefit single departments.
Mueller said some county residents who have the same viewpoint are fearful of expressing it publicly because they fear vindictive actions by law enforcement against them.
Mueller said the Advisory Board hasn’t elected officers since its inception in January 2001, and that it is being run in a dictatorial fashion by Becker when it should be run by law enforcement, fire departments and EMS “a third, a third and a third.”
Mueller said: “What gives law enforcement the right to a majority rule? I don’t think we should be puppets. We are entitled to receive copies for business, to not be told how to feel or how to think, to be able to help solve problems.”
Mueller said Abbot-Becker in board meetings had incorrectly quoted state statute that 51 percent of additional board positions had to be from law enforcement. He said representation was disproportionately awarded to the southern parts of the county.
Mueller said that while researching the situation, he visited with EMS directors in Dickinson and McPherson counties, the Kansas Board of EMS administrators, three radio consultants and other EMS and fire personnel.
Mueller said $83,000 is being tied up by Abbot-Becker and Becker for 911 cellular-phone tracking mandated by the state when the mandate doesn’t exist. He said the northern part of the county needs better equipment because more than 50 percent of calls result in problems. A part of the problem has been with apparent arbitrary use of VHF equipment when board approval was for UHF equipment, he said.
Mueller cited 10 checks using 911 funds raised from line phone emergency-telephone taxes that he said were spent improperly for insurance, equipment and equipment maintenance in violation of Kansas statute.
Mueller showed minutes of earlier county-commission meetings in which commissioners voted to reimburse 911 funds that had been improperly spent.
Mueller charged that Abbot-Becker wasted $600 on a topical geographical study by Ka-Com that was approved by the county commission without bids when Wichita Communications Co. had volunteered to do the study for free.
Commissioners said they were surprised by Mueller’s presentation. They discussed talking to Becker and Abbot-Becker about the situation, and also proceeding with an investigation by the county attorney.
Following 30 days of due diligence outlined in the contract and an additional 45 days for bond sales, James Kaup, Topeka attorney, speaking by conference telephone call for the commissioners, said the county’s $825,000 purchase of the transfer station in Marion from KC Development will be complete.
Kaup noted the transfer station contract ends a period of studies and negotiations that have proceeded since March-when the county made a $75,000 down-payment on the transfer station to proceed with the deal.
County Appraiser Dianna Carter presented commissioners with “good news” in the form of a letter from the Kansas Division of Property Valuation showing good statistical ratios in determining county valuations.
Abbot-Becker reported the county is receiving decontaminant showers, boots and protective clothing through a U.S. Department of Justice anti-terrorism grant.