Tucson 911: under new management
Reporter: Craig Smith
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The City of Tucson is handing over day to day management of its troubled 911 system from the General Services Department to the Fire Department.
A formal announcement is expected Wednesday morning.
This development comes after operators started reporting dropped calls -- and missing call locators -- since May 25th when the new system went on line.
Ward 6 Council Member Steve Kozachik came forward to back up dispatchers in their concerns about the system and had this to say.
"It means it's a huge step for morale from a morale standpoint. We had a press conference here. For the first time you and others in the media heard from the dispatchers themselves. Presumably (City Manager) Mike Letcher saw the coverage you gave it and was finally, finally convinced that it's time to make a change."
In an all day hearing Tuesday, a fired 911 operator tried to get his job back after calling attention to a problem with the new emergency system.
Was he a conscientious whistleblower calling attention to troubles with Tucson's 911 system or was he a troublemaker nosing into confidential computer files?
The Tucson Civil Service Commission seemed to think fired 911 operator Michael LaFond was a little of both.
They upheld his firing Tuesday night.
All this is in the context of months of troubles with the new 911 system where there have been leaks of problems and employees say they were ordered not to talk.
Michael LaFond says he was going to keep his complaint inside the city but he was fired anyway now he's lost his appeal.
No one in the hearing room talked about the incident apparently at the heart of this issue: a call June 1st where no one caught a mistaken address.
Because the city's new, troubled 911 system does not help operators and dispatchers check each others work no one caught the bad address until an ambulance was badly delayed. The 10 year old girl emergency crews were rushing to help died.
The city fired Michael LaFond after his bosses discovered he'd gone into the computer aided dispatch system to examine the records for a certain call June First, again, no one would speak details that confirmed it was the call that involved mistaken addresses and the girl's death.
The city says he wasn't authorized to view private health records and suggested he might leak them outside his immediate supervisors.
LaFond says he was only trying to call supervisors' attention to a dangerous flaw in the system.
But civil service commissioners agreed three to zero that he could and should have done that without tapping into a database with private medical information.
After the decision, KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked LaFond: "The suspicion was that you were going to take it outside city channels that you would leak it to the press or some other source, anything to that was that in your mind?"
LaFond said, "No, not at that point."
Smith: "What do you mean that point?"
LaFond: "Well. Look, it's got to be fixed and I'm a public employee, I'm paid by the taxpayers and I'm not going to run, I'm not going to allow them to just squash me and not report something that's affecting the safety of the public."
LaFond says he'll try to figure out what to do next. He says he may see if he can apply the state law designed to protect whistleblowers.
City officials did not comment on the ruling. General Services Director Ron Lewis testified and was at the assistant city attorney's table for most of the hearing but refused comment.