Jail Program Director Resigns For Higher Paying County Job
Robert Majewski, Jail Administrator for Marinette County Sheriff's Department, reported to the County Board's Law Enforcement Committee at its regular monthly meeting on Monday, Dec. 12, that Deputy Grant Kuehnl had resigned from his position as Jail Inmate Education and Programs Officer to post into another job with the county.
Majewski declared Kuehnl's decision "...is a loss , because he did an outstanding job. It will be tough to fill the shoes he left. it was sad to see him go....especially for the reason he had to leave."
He explained later that Kuehnl had accepted a higher paying position as Fraud Investigator with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Majewski said he would have liked to offer Kuehnl more pay to stay with his work at the jail, but was not able to do that because of some complications with the county pay structure and the new wage study that is currently in progress. He explained that Kuehnl was hired slightly below midpoint in his job description, but has been unable to get a raise because the salary was frozen pending results of the new wage study. By the time that study is done and implemented it will be too late to do anything about Kuehnl's decision to leave the Sheriff's Department, Majewski said.
The jail has had problems keeping trained help in civilian jailer positions and the Sheriff's Department has had several deputies leave for positions elsewhere in the last year or so. The 911 Emergency Dispatch Center has been operating short handed for months, and retention of trained employees is an ongoing problem.
Emergency Communica-tions Director Kirsten Bellisle informed the committee at Monday's meeting that if all goes well, all the dispatch positions on her staff will finally be filled in January, even if the people filling them are not fully trained. That busy department has the responsibility of handling calls for all law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical services in the county.
There are currently three positions open. A person has been hired for one of them, and a retired dispatcher has agreed to come back for a time to help train her. Two other potential dispatchers are in stages of the hiring process, which includes background checks. Hopefully they will be on board soon.
"I told Kirsten that if she gets up to full staff and isn't training anybody, and we do the same in the jail, we'll need to have a party to celebrate," declared Sheriff Jerry Sauve.
Committee members offered a few suggestions for alleviating the dispatcher shortage, including training a pool of limited term dispatchers (LTEs) to temporarily fill in for absences, vacations, etc.
Bellisle said that does work for some counties. She had considered it, but she believes that solution would not help her department. "A soon as we'd get them trained they'd leave for a full time job with another county," she predicted.
She reported her department handled 6,143 calls in November. Of those 1,099 were emergencies and 5,044 were non-emergency. The busiest days of the week were Wednesdays, but the busiest day all month was Saturday, Nov. 5. Bellisle said the alcohol task force was out, but other than that, she saw nothing special about that date. Despite the fact that the department is working short handed, on the busiest days the wait for incoming emergency calls response averaged four seconds or less.
The snow on Sunday, Dec. 11, the first serious snowstorm of the year, may make it one of the busiest days in next month's report. "The accidents we handled within a short time was amazing," Bellisle declared.
The committee approved a new pared-down version of the five year capital improvement plan (CIP) that was approved by the Finance Committee earlier in the day and will go to County Board for approval at its final scheduled meeting of the year, on Tuesday, Dec. 20. As it stands, the CIP for 2017 can be accomplished without any new bonding, according to County Administrator Shawn Henessee.
That will likely not be true in 2019, when the CIP provides for a possible $9 million new pod addition for the jail. At prior meetings there have been numerous expressions of hope that some solution for jail overcrowding can be found without the addition.
Jail reports continue to show it is filled to near capacity, about half the inmates generally are persons awaiting sentences for felony offenses. Once sentenced, many of these inmates would likely be either released or sent to state prison. Among suggestions is finding a way to decrease the inmate count by faster handling of pre-sentence inmates.
Law Enforcement capital equipment purchases planned and tentatively funded with sales tax dollars for 2017 on the 5-year CIP include $217,000 for patrol cars plus $35,800 for changeovers of decals, light bars, dividers, grill guards, etc., and $32,000 for a new jail transport vehicle.
After a few questions the committee approved a "MACH" (Mobile Architecture for Communications Handling) agreement between the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Emergency Dispatch. Bellisle told the committee the agreement allows the state to install its communications software in her department's computers at no cost to Marinette County.
Dispatchers then will be be able to communicate directly with the Wisconsin State Patrol, DNR wardens, etc., rather than go through radio contact. She noted there are three DNR wardens and two Wisconsin State Patrol Troopers stationed in Marinette County that currently cannot be reached directly from the 911 Center. The new system also will allow dispatchers to see the location of the squad cars.
Supervisor Cheryl Wruk questioned some provisions in the contract, including lack of a warranty and reference to a $75,000 charge. Bellisle said again, it is the State of Wisconsin contract, which brings the service to Marinette County at no charge. The state leases the system from the provider, and Marinette County will be a sub-leasee. She will have corporation counsel look over the contract to be sure Marinette County entails no liability.
Sheriff Sauve said the previous 911 communications director had concerns with MACH, and added there would be more concerns if the system were installed in Sheriff's Department squad cars. Since that will not be done, and it will be a good thing for safety of officers, he recommended approval. Committee vote then was for approval, without dissent.
Committee Chair Ken Keller wondered if this will make it possible to talk to Michigan officers. Bellisle said the Sheriff's Department officers can do that, but they need to be patched in through the 911 Communications system.
A lightning storm a few weeks ago caused some damage to a communications tower and other electrical systems at the Law Enforcement Center. Bellisle said there is still a tower issue, and they believe it came from the lightning strike. She has sent the information to the county's insurance company, but the deductible is so high she doubts it will be covered. However, once all the repair costs are known, the total damage may reach that point. Among other things, the lightning, power surge, or whatever it was, burned out the control board on the tower and affected lights in the 911 Dispatch Center.
Emergency Government Director Eric Burmeister said the surge may also have affected the capacitor on the tower, but they will not know that until other repairs are finished.
Burmeister, Sauve and Bellisle attended a Sheriff's Association conference last month, and each reported on it briefly. Emergency communications was on the agenda, and Burmeister reported he is chair of a statewide public relations group working on a regional system of communications to be used in case of a widespread emergency.
Sheriff's Department officers will be getting training for the next two weeks on handling suspects and jail inmates with mental health issues.
After an explanation by Lt. Barry Degnitz, the committee unanimously supported applying for a possible $7,200 Anti-Amphetamines grant that will work somewhat like the anti-heroin, anti-opiate grant the county already is using in connection with Drug Court. Sauve felt his department can put the grant to good use.
The committee also unanimously approved sending Sgt. Robert Amundson and Deputy Lance Lincoln for two weeks of First Responder training to New Mexico Tech along with three City of Marinette Police Officers. This program will be at no cost to Marinette County except wages for the two officers. Training, transportation, meals and lodging are all paid for by a grant. Lt. Jason Ducaine said both officers are members of the Marinette County Special Task Force. Classes they will take at the state of the art facility in New Mexico are focused on, "Prevention and Response to Suicide Bombers," which is part of Emergency Management.
"This is quite an opportunity at no cost to us," commented Sauve. Everyone agreed it is good to be cooperating with the Marinette City Police Department on joint training opportunities.
Supervisor George Kloppenburg, who has a background in law enforcement and handling emergency situations, felt it would be a very good thing.
After an explanation from Sauve on need to update recording equipment in the Law Enforcement Center's three investigative unit interview rooms the committee agreed to go forward with requests for quotes. Sauve predicted the cost will be about $5,000 per room.
Sauve said by law they must record all custodial interviews with adults being questioned on felony offenses and all juveniles. He said the current DVD equipment used to document these interviews "is end of days and then some," and they want to replace it with modern IP cameras.
Chief Deputy Jim Hansen said they budgeted for this purchase for next year, but wanted to keep the committee informed. The recorded interviews often are used in court. One copy will be kept in the evidence room, one goes into records for District Attorney use, and a third may also be kept on file.
Sauve reported the Wisconsin Sheriff's Association raised over $7,000 with a benefit auction at the conference he, Bellisle and Burmeister attended recently.
He said the money will go to the family of an officer who was killed on duty last October. He said one individual bought a number of items at very high prices and then donated them back to the benefit.
Kloppenburg had some questions about persons picked up on warrants. Sauve said often those people are picked up in connection with some other violation.
For example, at a recent vehicle roll over at Hwy. 64 and Hwy. 141 there were three people in the car, and drugs spilled out all over. Of the three occupants, two were wanted on warrants already. Before it was over, all three went to jail, Sauve said.
Two officers, one civilian jailer and some clerical people participated along with 40 youngsters in this year's "Shop With A Cop," program on Saturday, Dec. 3. Secretary Fae Olsen reported for some reason, this year some schools didn't send anyone, but she has found the kids always seem to enjoy it.
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