City, county at odds over E911
BUCKHANNON – The city of Buckhannon and the Upshur County Commission are embroiled in a heated conflict over E911 mapping and addressing data.
The issue surfaced last week during a Buckhannon City Council meeting and then again Thursday at the Upshur County Commission’s weekly meeting.
Several years ago, the city of Buckhannon opted out of the county’s E911 mapping and addressing project. In November 2013, however, then-County Commission president Donnie Tenney and Buckhannon Mayor Kenny Davidson signed a memorandum of understanding and agreement that would allow the Buckhannon Fire Department to have access to the data for use in the development of a mobile mapping system. The system was to be used for the purpose of dispatching first response fire and rescue trucks.
Despite the document having been signed by Davidson on Nov. 21, 2013, and Tenney on Dec. 6, 2013, Buckhannon Fire Chief Mitch Tacy expressed his frustration that the fire department had yet to receive the data at City Council’s March 6 meeting.
City Attorney Dave McCauley told council he believed the issue had been resolved months ago and accused the commission of “reneging” on the agreement.
“We doctored the proposed agreement that was sent here from the county and even though they accepted it and executed the document, they are now reneging on what appears to me to be a valid and binding contract between the two entities,” McCauley said, “so do we want to go to Circuit Court against the County Commission? That’s a decision for Council to make.”
City Administrator Michael Doss explained the county’s insurance is insisting the county be added as a rider on the city’s general liability insurance, Commercial Insurance.
“If we wanted to have access to that, we had to add them as a rider on our insurance,” Doss said. “Their insurance (West Virginia Counties Risk Pool) had concerns that our firemen or whoever else got access to this mapping (data) on the city level, if they altered the map in any way, it could create potential legal ramifications for the county (if those changes caused harm to any individuals).”
Doss said the city’s insurance is “adamant” that the county not be added as a rider.
At Thursday’s Commission meeting, city resident Rick Edwards addressed commissioners about the issue, appealing to them to partner with the city to find a resolution to the apparent impasse.
“We understand that there’s the issue with insurance, but I’ve got to implore the two governments to come together and find a resolution to this situation,” Edwards said. “We’re talking about public safety here, not just about who’s got what.”
Commission President JC Raffety handed a copy of the memorandum of understanding to Edwards and asked that he read aloud the last paragraph, which, according to a copy obtained by The Inter-Mountain, states: “The City (sic) of Buckhannon BFD (Buckhannnon Fire Department) will provide a ‘Certificate of Insurance’ that provides proof of the limits of liability of any all insurance coverage. In addition, the City of Buckhannon (fire department) will add the Upshur County officials, employees, agents, affiliates, consultants and/or advisers as an additional insured’s (sic) on any such liability policy.
“This Agreement (sic) is conditional upon receipt of said Certificate of Insurance,” it continues.
Raffety said that despite having agreed in writing to provide a certificate of insurance, the city is now unwilling to so, which is why the addressing and mapping data has not been forwarded to the city fire department.
Tenney, who signed the Nov. 21, 2013, agreement expressed outrage at McCauley’s comments.
“They agreed to do it (provide a certificate of insurance), they signed the agreement and what bothers me is Mr. McCauley said that the County Commission reneged on our agreement,” Tenney said. “You just read the agreement that the city signed, they said they would provide those additional insureds on their insurance policy and now they’re saying they’re not going to do it.
“So, to the city of Buckhannon, don’t you renege on your contract, number one, and number two, don’t say we’re reneging when you’re the one that’s reneging.”
Raffety said the county is merely trying to protect itself and county residents, including city residents, from potential lawsuits – not obstruct information sharing that would be in the best interest of public safety.
“We are required as a matter of liability to protect the citizens of Upshur County from future suits that might be brought upon us by errors or acts on the part of city employees or volunteer firefighters,” Raffety said. “We all recognize the importance of public safety for the citizens, but it appears that this is just something that’s very simple, it’s conducted as a normal matter of business, it’s routine. There should not be this hesitancy to obtain this certificate.”
However, when The Inter-Mountain contacted McCauley for comment, he said he had removed the paragraph stating the city would add the county as a rider on its insurance and provide the county with a certificate of insurance.
“I clearly excised the City insuring anything done by the County,” McCauley wrote in an email. “If that language was re-added, it was done entirely without my knowledge or approval.”
Also during Thursday’s meeting, Upshur County Addressing and Mapping Coordinator Terri Jo Bennett said regardless of whether the city fire department has received a disc containing the addressing and mapping data, the city’s fire department already has access to that data via the
“For those who are not aware, the Upshur County Commission maintains a web-hosting site that has every layer of my information on that site and it can be accessed by a user name and a password,” she said. The data is in a “read-only” format, meaning no changes can be made to the data, Bennett said.
In April 2011, Bennett said, she provided a user name and password to the city for its fire chief, Tacy, to use.
“They have that information,” she said. “It’s just a matter of going on to that site and viewing it.”
Holding up a large stack of papers, Bennett said Tacy had “never once logged onto the site” since 2011, despite the fact that other city employees have logged on 38 times since March 1.
When contacted for comment, Tacy said having Internet access to the data does him no good when he’s responding to a call in his fire truck in the field.
“She’s right, I have not logged onto that,” Tacy said, referring to Bennett’s comments. “My fire truck does not have Internet access. We’re wanting it (the data) to use in a vehicle, out in the field. If I’m driving down the XYZ road, I have no way to access that.”
Giving the fire department access to the data would benefit residents just outside corporate limits more than it would city residents, Tacy said, because the data would help city firefighters locate water sources more easily and efficiently.
“We know our streets and hydrants in the city fairly well,” Tacy said. “When we’re dealing with areas out in the county that we’re called to, and there’s a hodge-podge of PSDs (public service districts), it’s hard to keep up.
“I’m not disgusted so much with either entity (the city or the county) so much as I am with the bureaucratic process we’re having to go through,” the fire chief added. “I just want what’s best for the fire department and the residents.”
Doss – who was not yet employed by the city when it made the decision to opt out of the E911 addressing and mapping project – said he believes the city should have opted in when it had the chance.
“If I would have had my say, we would have opted into it,” he said Thursday following the commission meeting. “That’s just my personal opinion, but what’s done is done.
“I’m not frustrated with the county,” he continued, “but I would like them to go back to their insurance provider and see if we could obtain a CD read-only copy of the mapping and addressing data.”
But McCauley – who was working as the city attorney when the city opted out of the project – had a differing opinion, reaffirming the municipality’s decision.
“The City Council completely refuted the suggestion that virtually every city street address within the corporate limits would be changed as would have been mandated had county addressing been adopted,” he wrote. “There wasn’t a single City official supportive of comprehensive re-addressing within our corporate limits, and that is borne out by our ordinance. Furthermore, the streets superintendent, the police chief, the fire chief and others were dead set against comprehensive city re-addressing, as most certainly was I.”
Contact Katie Kuba by email at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at IMT-Kuba.