New Emergency Center, WMC expansion one step closer
By Pam Horne, Managing Editor
Williamson County Commissioners voted this week to support two major community investments related to public safety and health care—a new Emergency Operations Center and a significant expansion of Williamson Medical Center. Financing for both endeavors, totaling more than $55 million, will be rolled into a new public bond package to be issued in late October, pending commissioners’ final approval Oct. 7.
Deliberation on both projects stretched the regular monthly meeting of the county’s governing body to more than three hours Monday with these two items garnering most of the discussion and sometimes heated debate, especially regarding the hospital.
At issue is the increased involvement of Vanderbilt’s Monroe Carell, Jr. Children’s Hospital in the servicing of pediatric care at Williamson Medical Center.
The proposed new tower for the hospital came under fire by four commissioners, Kathy Danner, Bob Barnwell, Jeff Ford, and Brandon Ryan.
All voiced their concern about Vanderbilt’s role in the contract for services and the funding, which is more than $30 million of the total bond issue.
At one point, Commissioner Barnwell suggested that the Williamson Medical Center Board of Trustees were not acting in the best interest of the community.
“To me they’re not representing the people they were appointed to represent. They’re representing Vanderbilt,” Barnwell said.
Later, a sharp retort between he and Commissioner Cheryl Wilson, a hospital trustee of the 56-year-old county-owned institution, raised tensions in the room as the meeting approached the ten o’clock hour.
Ultimately, the hospital measure passed 19-4 with Barnwell, Danner, Ford and Ryan voting against supporting the project.
However, moments later when a resolution to move forward preparing a bond resolution for the October financing of both projects moved to a vote, only Barnwell, Danner and Ryan opposed the future financing resolution.
With much less tension, but equally long discussion and passionate discourse by emergency officials, a plan for a multi-faceted Emergency Operations Center was approved.
After presentations by Emergency Management Agency representatives, including a former state emergency official, a letter of support from Williamson County Chamber of Commerce CEO Matt Largen was read into the record.
But it was an unusually impassioned and authoritative speech by Williamson County Sheriff Jeff Long that brought closure to the debate.
Cautioning commissioners not to be naive about the surge of growth that is expected in the Middle Tennessee region, Long reminded folks of his first job in Williamson County in the mid-1970s.
“I was honored to be the first emergency management director of Williamson County. This was based off the Waverly train disaster,” he explained about how the paralyzing train derailment in Humphreys County required unprecedented statewide response.
In those days, Williamson County was without its own plan for emergency response and an emergency management agency.
“We realized after that that we better act quick because we could have something like that and we wouldn’t (be prepared).”
His presentation began there and took commissioners through his 40 plus year career in the emergency and law enforcement profession where he had a seat at the state’s emergency management table while serving in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Those experiences, he said, taught him the importance of multi-agency, multi-disciplinary coordination and communication during public safety events that present high risk to citizens and significantly threaten residential and commercial property.
“On the day of the disaster how are we going to respond to those calls if we don’t have a facility that we need?”
Long emphasized to commissioners the need to have a secure location for the 911 call center and the emergency operations center, a priority he said could not be minimized any longer.
“We are doing response plans everyday. That’s how important I think it is to plan for our disaster,” he said of the preparation underway at his department.
Earlier presentations by members of a public safety committee appointed by County Mayor Rogers Anderson following the 2010 Flood drew little debate except for fiscal concerns posed by Commissioner Kathy Danner.
“Thank you to the [Emergency Management Agency] department and Bill (Jorgensen) and Mac (Purdy). I truly feel safer for the work you do, but because of the timing and the price tag I’m not going to support this tonight,” Danner said.
She noted that the county already has an inter-local government agreement in place whereby 911 calls would be handled by another municipality should the county’s facility be shutdown during a disaster.
The Emergency Operations Center, currently housed in the basement of the county’s administrative complex, is considered substantially inadequate for the nearly 200,000 residents the center’s team is tasked with serving.
A final vote on the financing resolution is set for the Oct. 14 Williamson County Commission meeting.
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Posted on: 9/11/2013