Fritz questions status of 9-1-1 board critic

Commissioner says outspoken dispatch system board member not eligible to service

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz is taking aim at a critic of the city's new 9-1-1 dispatch system.

Fritz is insisting that T.J. Browning, an outspoken critic of flaws and cost increases in the new dispatch system, has not been properly serving on a group representing its users.

The dispute erupted days before the Bureau of Emergency Communications User Board is scheduled to meet for the first time since the system was activated, prompting complaints from some users about its operation and costs.

Browning has attended user board meetings since December. Fritz oversees the bureau of Emergency Communications, the agency that operates the 9-1-1 system for all police, fire and medical responders in Multnomah County.

The bureau activated the replacement system on April 17. On May 7, Browning told the Portland Tribune that users throughout the county were having trouble with the system and were surprised to learn that their maintenance payments were increasing by nearly $2 million.

Browning said she based her opinion on discussions at the user group meetings she attended and personal conversations with individual users.

'The jurisdictions are getting screwed,' Browning was quoted in a story posted the next day.

Among other things, Browning said the new Windows-based system was difficult for police to use on the computers in their patrol cars while driving to emergency calls.

A follow-up story in the May 12 Portland Tribune reported that bureau Director Lisa Turley had invited Browning to the group meeting. The board voted to appoint her to a vacant position, and she was listed on the roster in February.

On May 14, however, Fritz e-mailed Browning to say she was not a board member. In the e-mail, Fritz wrote that after reading the Portland Tribune article, she realized there was 'some confusion' about Browning's role on the group.

Fritz wrote that she had appointed Browning to the bureau Budget Advisory Committee, not the user group.

Fritz also wrote that only the City Council can appoint citizen members to the board. She wrote there were no vacancies on the user board anyway.

'You are welcome to attend the user board meetings as an observer, but participation in the meetings is generally limited to members of the user board,' Fritz wrote.

A smokescreen?

Browning replied to Fritz the next day, writing in an e-mail that the intergovernmental agreement establishing the board gives it the power to appoint citizen representatives. She also wrote that the board apparently believed there was a vacancy because it appointed her to a position.

'There may indeed be some confusion, but I am afraid it is not on my part nor apparently the user board,' Browning wrote.

Fritz's reply repeated that there was no vacant position for Browning to fill. Fritz said that one citizen representative, Barb Hedlund, a Portland consultant, had not attended meetings for several months because of family matters, but that she had not resigned her position.

'Barb Hedlund had a family issue which has precluded her attendance for a few months, but she is planning to return to service,' Fritz wrote.

The board is led by Fairview Police Chief Ken Johnson, who has also complained publicly about the operation of the replacement 9-1-1 system and the increased maintenance costs. Johnson says he considers Browning a member of the board and believes that questions about her eligibility are a side issue.

'We are concerned with safety and facts, and all we're getting from Amanda Fritz's office is a smokescreen,' Johnson says.

Fritz insisted that Browning was not a board member, but agreed that her eligibility was also a minor issue.

'Our main focus is identifying and fixing any problems with the replacement system,' Fritz wrote.

Ironically, Browning will not be able to attend the May 19 meeting because of a previous commitment.