Sheriff goes on the fight in meeting about dispatch
Stillwater County Sheriff Cliff Brophy is not known for letting his temper flare or name-calling.
That changed recently when Brophy and Undersheriff Chip Kem were called to the Stillwater County Commissioners’ office to talk about on going issues with attracting and keeping dispatchers.
Commissioner Mark Crago requested the meeting as a means to see what kind of help the sheriff’s office might need in the continuing effort to get the dispatch center fully staffed, trained and retained. Of specific concern to Crago was the recent departure of at least one dispatcher and what could be done to make people want to stay.
The commissioners do not have authority over the sheriff’s office as it is run by an elected official in the sheriff. Commissioners do have budgetary control and employees must abide by county policies.
Questions being asked about why dispatchers keep leaving sparked Brophy’s ire as he repeatedly went off-topic and accused the county of mistreating its employees. He directed his displeasure at Commissioner Maureen Davey, whom he referred to as “Maureen.”
Davey’s response to the unexpected change of tone was immediate, as she tried to defend herself and get the conversation back on track.
“You know sheriff, we have given you everything you’ve wanted,” said Davey, adding that the commissioners had become aware of issues in dispatch through emails.
Commissioner Mark Crago reiterated what Davey said, telling Brophy that dispatchers and officers had told him specifically there are problems in dispatch and the goal of the meeting was to see how that office could help.
NAME CALLING, WRONG INFORMATION AND AN ANGRY EX-EMPLOYEE
Brophy said he had never been told about the complaints.
“I don’t know where this crap is coming from,” said Brophy. “I don’t give a rat’s ass what they think.”
“They”, as Brophy explained to the News last week, are the anonymous people who spoke to Crago but not directly to him.
Brophy said he believed that some of the complaints were coming from the four applicants who were “whiney-butting thumb-sucking around because they didn’t get chief dispatch.”
Brophy named one of those applicants as Patricia Rozema — saying she came from dispatching in California and “struggled to adapt” to the local system. He also called her a “great person and a great dispatcher” but said that dispatch is a “tough world” and those who can’t handle it need to get out of it, according to the recording of the meeting.
Rozema did not apply for the chief dispatch position and was no longer working as a dispatcher at that time. When Rozema learned about Brophy’s comments at the meeting, she sent a formal letter to the commissioners, sheriff’s office, human resources and the county attorney that expressed her anger at being portrayed as a “whiney butt” who left because her feelings got hurt and because she was not tough enough.
Rozema spent approximately 30 years as a dispatcher in Los Angeles, Calif., where she was a supervisor for several years.
Rozema rejected Brophy’s claim that no one had complained to him about dispatch and said that she herself had complained more than once.
She left the sheriff’s office for a job at Columbus City Court because she wanted a change in the hours she was working and was ready for a different environment, Rozema told the News recently.
She also told the News that Brophy owes her an apology.
Brophy also said he suspected some of the discontent was being generated by Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger.
“My fire chief down here put it out in news media that my own people are complaining about dispatch,” said Brophy. “That’s the first I heard of it. I don’t give a rat’s ass what other people are thinking about that.”
Brophy was referring to a formal letter of complaint that Cowger sent him, the commissioners and the county attorney last year following a fatal incident that occurred when a woman was hit and killed on Highway 10 after a dispatcher failed to send someone to check on her despite three citizen reports spanning approximately one hour.
The letter was made public after the News learned of it and formally requested it from the commissioners.
Brophy returned to the issue of his beef with Cowger a couple of times during the meeting.
“An individual wanting to take over dispatch and Search and Rescue because he’s wanting the money,” Brophy said at the meeting. “I’m not making accusations. That’s just my personal belief.”
He then returned to name-calling.
“When they whine and snivel about dispatch and the way they think dispatch should run, I don’t give a rat’s ass what they think. If there’s something we can do to make the public safer, I’m all for that.”
Since the meeting, Brophy acknowledge to the News that Cowger had submitted other complaints to him prior to sending the formal complaint letter regarding the fatal incident.
Crago told Brophy that neither Cowger nor Rozema had spoken to him about the issues he was addressing.
A Matter of Money or More?
Early in the meeting, Brophy said that dispatchers had left for a variety of reasons, but money was the dominant factor, saying two had moved away and 10 had left because other places paid them more.
Towards the end of the meeting, Brophy had changed that statement slightly, saying that money was often a factor in retaining dispatchers.
The starting dispatch wage was recently bumped up to $14 an hour. Crago repeatedly asked for a number that would make Stillwater County competitive with other agencies. After several requests for a “magic number,” Kem said it would have to be around $15.25 to start and jump to $17.50 fairly quickly.
Crago said he was concerned what would happen if the county lost all its dispatchers and asked Brophy if he had a plan for such a scenario.
“Make people work overtime. Shove people in there and that’s going to burn out the ones that are there and they are going to keep leaving,” said Brophy.
He also said dispatch had been at a critical point for a long time and that it was going to take two years to shore things up. Brophy said his people are overworked, underpaid but when commissioners asked what they could do to help, his answer was nothing.
Brophy engaged Davey in heated conversation at least twice during the meeting, raising his voice, calling her by her first name and referencing things that had taken place years ago.
At one point, Davey said “How is that going to help what we are talking about sheriff?”
He answered by saying it was “a systemic problem that goes back decades.”
Towards the end of the hour-long meeting, Davey finally told him she “has had enough” and that he needed to be respectful and stop yelling at her.
That prompted yet another tangent by Brophy.
“Dispatch is not the only thing broke around here,” he said.