City of Madison

Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog

Two Simple Numbers

February 20, 2010 8:01 PM

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas issued a fair and thoughtful ruling yesterday regarding major changes in 911 service being pushed unilaterally by the County Executive. A good story describing his rulings can be found in this morning's State Journal at

The judge essentially said that Madison was right when we argued that the County Exec had no authority on her own to implement a phone tree system for nonemergency calls or to force Madison to pay for the dispatch of parking calls. Those decisions really rest with the board that governs the 911 system. The judge blocked her from charging the city for parking dispatch, but didn't block the phone tree only because we couldn't meet the very high standard of showing that that system would create damages for the city.

Nonetheless, the County Executive says she will go ahead with the new auto attendant system this morning after only four days notice to the public, after the Dane County Public Safety Communications Center Board (911 board) voted overwhelmingly to delay that decision, and after at least 23 of 37 Dane County Supervisors signed onto a resolution on Thursday evening also calling for a delay. While Madison's position is that the auto attendant is probably a good thing, implementing it in such cavalier fashion is a mistake. Nonetheless, that will need to be sorted out by the Communications Board and the Board of Supervisors.

The issue of direct impact to Madison was the move after 22 years to start charging Madison taxpayers for something they already pay for in their county tax bill. This had nothing whatsoever to do with public safety. If Madison had caved to the County Executive's pressure to pay for parking dispatch nothing would have changed at the 911 Center. No new or expanded services would have been provided. What would have happened is that a two decade old intergovernmental agreement would have been breeched and Dane County would have been able to start splitting off services and charging not only Madison but our neighboring communities for any part of the regional 911 service it wanted. That's why virtually every community in the county joined Madison in its opposition to this move.

What happens next? Well, if the County Exec is willing to move away from legal action so am I. Let's drop the bad idea on parking dispatch and work together on a 311 system for nonemergency calls. I don't disagree at all with Kathleen Falk on the idea that it would be best to move nonemergency calls away from emergency dispatch functions. But the best way to do that is not be peeling off one service at a time creating confusion, added cost and inequities. The best way to do it is to move virtually all nonemergency calls at once to a new and separate system. Let's give the public two simple numbers to call: 911 for emergencies and 311 for nonemergencies. And let's commit to getting that new system in place in 24 to 36 months.


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