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Dispatch director quit under fire

The director of the Red River Regional Dispatch Center was placed on paid leave less than an hour before she resigned Thursday amid tension with the center's board.

The director of the Red River Regional Dispatch Center was placed on paid leave less than an hour before she resigned Thursday amid tension with the center's board.

The concerns board members had with Director Kathy Colvin include an "alarming delay" in the time it took to dispatch some calls, her leadership of the center and an exodus of dispatchers, records obtained Friday show.

Ten of the center's 30 dispatcher positions are vacant, and morale is low, said Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger, chairman of the Board of Authority, which oversees the center.

Board members gave Colvin a vote of no confidence Thursday morning and authorized Ebinger to place her on paid administrative leave.

"I think probably the straw that broke the camel's back was our personnel issues," Ebinger said Friday.


The joint dispatch center at 300 NP Ave. in Fargo serves about 192,000 people in Cass and Clay counties, ensuring that their phone calls are connected to the proper police, fire or ambulance agency in a timely manner.

Colvin had been the center's only director since it opened in 2002. It was touted as the first dispatch center in the nation to cross state lines.

Ebinger said Colvin turned in a two-line letter of resignation about 30 minutes after he told her she was put on leave.

The letter does not list her reason for resigning. Colvin did not return messages left on her cell phone Thursday or Friday.

Letters and e-mails obtained by The Forum through an open records request indicate that Colvin knew her job was in jeopardy.

"I need to know where I stand with this Board soon," Colvin wrote in an April 9

e-mail to Moorhead Fire Chief Joel Hewitt, one of two board members assigned to evaluate her job performance.

"Rumors continue to abound since the day I took this job and I know any person with authority must deal with it as a matter of course," Colvin wrote. "But the recent rumors are now beginning to affect my staff and my working relationship with them. This morning I was told 'The Board of Authority wants me out; I'm on my last leg'."


Board members laid out their concerns in a four-page letter to Colvin on April 11.

Ebinger, who typed the letter, wrote that the board wanted to support Colvin, but added, "That support does not always mean we will agree on all points of contention."

"The perception that we have not been heard, or that our concerns have been dismissed by you, has had a negative impact on your working relationship with several (board) members," the letter stated.

The letter identified three specific concerns, the first being the handling of operational requests from the dispatch center's member agencies. It accused Colvin of ignoring concerns and passing off responsibility, and stated that "particular attention should be directed to bringing dispatch times to national standards."

"A recent review of a small sample of dispatch times shows an alarming delay in dispatching some calls," the letter stated.

The second concern was employee retention. While not blaming Colvin outright for the exodus, the board was critical of her for overspending the overtime budget to provide minimum staffing levels. The letter also stated that Colvin "seemed resistant" to include West Fargo dispatchers when West Fargo joined the center this spring.

Ebinger said eight dispatchers are being trained to fill open slots. Former dispatchers are working part time to fill the open shifts, he said.

Ebinger said the other concern was that the center's line supervisors didn't have enough flexibility. The letter stated supervisors often were "powerless to make decisions and frequently fearful of discipline that may result from deviation of call guides."


Colvin acknowledged receiving the letter in an April 15 e-mail to Ebinger.

"I am humbled by the letter and our conversation last Wednesday and remain hopeful the issues raised by the Board can and will be addressed to your satisfaction," she wrote.

While that didn't happen, Ebinger said Colvin deserves credit for getting the joint dispatch center off the ground and seeing it to fruition, which ultimately has saved taxpayers millions of dollars.

"It's a great idea, and she made it work," he said. "Do we need to go in a different direction? Yeah. We can't keep losing people."

Ebinger also said that the addition of him, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney and Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes to the board since 2006 led to frustrations on both sides.

"As a board, I think we made a lot of demands on her that had never been made before," he said.

The board consists of the police chiefs of Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, the Cass and Clay county sheriffs, the Fargo and Moorhead fire chiefs and the F-M Ambulance director. Fargo Fire Chief Bruce Hoover was absent from Thursday's meeting.

Maureen Nelson, the center's assistant director, will serve as acting director until an interim director is named, likely from one of the agencies' command staffs, Ebinger said. A national search is planned for a permanent replacement.


Nelson directed all questions to Ebinger on Friday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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