Attorneys Will Hold The Key To 911 Debate

Debate about legal costs surrounding a new radio system for first responders drew questions from Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Groenendyk.

Mahaska County Board of Supervisors have threatened legal action if the 911 Board and Emergency Management move forward with a new radio system for first responders in the county.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The Mahaska County E911 Board met on Thursday evening to discuss the threat of a lawsuit from the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors.

Board Chairman Dustin Hite, Mayor of New Sharon, called the meeting of the E911 Board to order.

The primary item on the agenda was to address the lawsuit the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors have said they will level against the board if they don’t amend the 28E agreement with Mahaska County Emergency Management, to allow both parties to withdrawal from the agreement.

Hite said the intent of the meeting was to hire an attorney to answer the allegations being made by the board of supervisors.

Upon the recommendation of the Emergency Management Attorney Mike Mahaffey, to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest, to hire a separate attorney to represent the E911 Board.

Mahaska County Attorney James Blomgren, who was critical in the drafting of the now in question 28E agreement, said in a letter he was unable to participate in the conflict between the board of supervisors, the 911 board and EMC because of ethical and time considerations. “As you know, the Board of Supervisors asked me earlier this year to excuse myself from the EMC/911 Board/Board of Supervisors issues because of my workload.”

“It is also clear the Board has hired counsel to represent them in this dispute. I am specifically concerned I may at some point be called as a witness in this matter as a result of my participation in the creation of the 28E,” added Blomgren.

According to Hite, it’s taken extra time to hire an attorney, because the one they had previously negotiated with has since been placed on a short list for district judge. He informed the board that he wouldn’t take the case, so the board wouldn’t have to find another attorney in the event he was appointed judge.

The E911 board selected Ottumwa attorney Michael Moreland to represent them against the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors. Hite said Moreland is a highly respected attorney.

The cost for the attorney is $185 per hour, which is discounted from their normal rate of $250 per hour.

Oskaloosa City Council-member and E911 Board member Tom Walling made the motion to hire Moreland. “Mark’s [Groenendyk] willing to wait. We need to get going,” Walling said, referring to the board of supervisors latest legal push.

The issue then brought up was that E911 has no funds for legal fees, but that emergency management does cover the operations and the funds to pay the attorney would come from that budget.

“Yeah, I want to ask Mark why he wants out of the agreement,” said Beacon council-member Danny Fetters of Mark Groenendyk.

“If you look at the 28E statute, Iowa Code section 28E, in order to use chapter 28E, you have to be a political subdivision, and I think if you look at the 911 code administrative rules, it rules out the 911 board as being a political subdivision,” said Groenendyk, Mahaska County Supervisor and E911 Board member.

“Well, it seems to me we have a lawyer over here that says one thing and a lawyer over here that’s arguing the same thing, and all it’s doing is costing money,” said Fetters.

“Yep,” replied Groenendyk.

“So what do you want?” asked Fetters.

“I just want to follow the Iowa Code,” said Groenendyk.

“Alright, I’ll leave it up to the lawyers,” a frustrated Fetters said.

“I think we have to Danny. I’d like to do it some other way too, but I’m not one [lawyer],” said Walling.

“We thought we were right when we did it, and we need to either prove again we’re right, or disprove that Mark’s right,” added Walling.

Fetters asked Groenendyk that if the 28E was found to not be valid, what does he see happening. Groenendyk believes that the agreements would fall back to agreements nearly 30 years old.

Those old agreements wouldn’t be legal, because Iowa and Federal code was changed after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

“If it is valid, then what?” asked another E911 Board member of Groenendyk.

“We’re going to have a hard time believing that,” said Groenendyk if the 28E was found to be valid by the courts.

“In the meantime, we’re spending a lot of money that could be going to other things,” the board member said to Groenendyk.

Mahaska County Sheriff Russ Van Renterghem asked Groenendyk, “Is the board open to any negotiations other than us [E911 Board], are you open to anything other than meeting all of your demands in your petition?”

“If the board of supervisors does not get each and every item in their petition, are they going to reject any agreements?” asked Van Renterghem.

“I think we’ll all just have to talk it and see if we agree or disagree. I think right now the supervisors do not think the 911 and EMA ought to be together,” said Groenendyk.

In a letter, the Mahaska County Board of Supervisor threatened legal action to stop further progress on an emergency radio system for first responders and the public.

In a recent letter from the board of supervisors to E911/EMC, “neither the Service Board nor the Commission will move or vote to approve any projects, contracts, leases, or any such other agreements related to E911 services until we have met and discussed settlement negotiations. This includes, but is not limited to, the proposed emergency radio system.”

The rationale for the board of supervisors for their petition is that the E911 and EMC would be entering into invalid contracts. “We will have no choice but to immediately file the petition and seek an injunction blocking any approved projects or contracts.”

Van Renterhem returned to his original question. “I don’t feel you’ve answered my question.”

“Is the board, are they open to any negotiations other than the two boards agreeing to all the items in your petition,” said Van Renterghem.

“If the lawyers feel are illegal?” asked Groenendyk.

“Is the board of supervisors, if they don’t get each and every item outlined in the 60 some page petition, will you reject any agreements?” Van Renterghem asked of Groenendyk.

“I don’t know Russ,” said Groenendyk. “I guess if you gave me a specific I guess I could say for myself.”

“Sounds like the attorneys are going to have to decide,” another E911 Board member said.

Van Renterghem said that if the three boards could work out an agreement, it saves taxpayers money. “But there’s no sense in the three boards sitting down together if the board of supervisors is going to reject anything other than what they’ve outlined in their petition.”

“I’ve said before, said it in a board of supervisors meeting, the status of Mahaska County’s dispatching right now is far ahead of where it was when they were separated,” said Van Renterghem, who specified it wasn’t a “slam” towards anyone in the past. “I worked in law enforcement here when they were, and I’ve worked since they’ve been joined together. My concerns as a sheriff is this, I don’t want to see our dispatching go backwards.”

“I would love the three boards sit down and try to work something out,” said Van Renterghem. “Everybody wins that way if we can come to agreement. But it’s a waste of time if you guys are not willing to give anything in your petition.”

In regards to the petition, Hite said it comes down to the supervisors wanting the EMA and 911 Board separated.

The board moved to hire their own attorney to represent them against the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors.

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Posted by on Aug 12 2018. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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