By Stephanie Ramage

After a highly contentious discussion, the Dunwoody City Council voted  on March 28 to end its agreement with DeKalb County for 911 services and hire the Chattahoochee River 911 Authority instead.

Dunwoody’s neighboring city, Sandy Springs, uses ChatComm. Council members supporting the move said they believe it will facilitate better emergency response along the border with Sandy Springs. They also expressed dissatisfaction with DeKalb’s 911 services.

The two dissenting votes were cast by Dunwoody City Councilmen Danny Ross and Dennis Shortal.

During a work session preceding the council meeting, Ross castigated several of his fellow council members for making remarks about DeKalb’s 911 operation.

“I saw emails today from people around this table that just made my hair bristle,” Ross said. “You were disparaging fine people. We need to work with DeKalb County and stop disparaging them at every turn.”

He acknowledged that up until last summer DeKalb did not have enough call-takers in its 911 center to be efficient, but he said that has changed.

He also presented several concerns about moving the city’s 911 services to ChatComm. He said it is not yet accredited for EMS, while DeKalb County is. He also warned that although police calls are likely to be handled fluidly by ChatComm, fire and EMS calls will have to be rerouted back to DeKalb County for dispatch which will require an additional 30 to 60 seconds, time that could be critical in getting help for medical emergencies such as stroke or heart attack.

“We are making a life or death decision here tonight,” Ross told his colleagues. “I think we need to wait until we have really studied this.”

He also said he did not believe the cost estimate provided by ChatComm—roughly $300,000 a year—will prove to be accurate. He believes it might be double that, meaning that over a period of three years the ChatComm service may cost as much as $1.8 million, money that he said could be better put to use on things residents have complained about including streets, bike lanes and sidewalks.

“I haven’t gotten even one email complaining about the 911 service,” he said. “And I doubt that anyone at this table has.”

During the council meeting’s public comments segment, resident Jim Gaddis, who served on Dunwoody’s citizens task force for 911, said the agreement with ChatComm includes services levels which, if violated, would mean that ChatComm would have to refund part of Dunwoody’s money, a measure of accountability that the agreement with DeKalb does not include.

According to council members, moving to ChatComm has the enthusiastic support of Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan.

In deliberations minutes before the vote, Councilman John Heneghan said he’d been on ride-alongs with the police and felt that DeKalb’s 911 system is not providing adequate service.

Councilman Robert Wittenstein said he had considered three things in deciding to vote in favor of ChatComm: What DeKalb is offering, what ChatComm is offering, and the people with those organizations.

“Most importantly, the people [with ChatComm] are more professional,” Wittenstein said. “You hear it in their voices, you see it in the attitude. They consider themselves partners with the police.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.