A dispatch supervisor has stepped in as interim director of 911 dispatch operations in Benton County after this week’s sudden retirement of Jim Barber.
Barber departed Tuesday as director of Southeast Communications Center or SECOMM, the emergency dispatch center operated by Benton County Emergency Services. Barber had been director since July 2006.
Kim Lettrick, a supervisor for the center with more than 25 year’s experience with the agency, was appointed interim manager.
Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner, the chief administrator for the emergency services agency, said Barber indicated plans to retire any time between June and his 60th birthday next May. Skinner said it made sense to avoid a long transition period that might have created a sense of stagnation in the agency.
He credited Barber with leaving the agency stronger than he found it, and well positioned to adapt as it contemplates a merger with the Franklin County dispatch center.
“We’ve been planning for this,” he said. “Jim Barber has been a champion for SECOMM and for his employees. I’ve never been around a manager that has really really wanted to do the very best for his organization.”
Skinner will meet with the staff and board members in coming days and intends to map out a plan to appoint a permanent director quickly.
SECOMM employs 29 emergency dispatchers as well as administrators and fields 28,000 emergency calls from Benton County callers every month. It is jointly owned by Benton County and the cities of Kennewick and Richland. Smaller cities pay subscription fees.
Benton County Emergency Services is negotiating an agreement with Franklin County and the city of Pasco to unite Tri-City 911 operations under the SECOMM banner.
The move is widely supported by police and fire officials who say a single point of contact will eliminate problems with misrouted calls and improve emergency response times.
The increased use of mobile phones means calls are routed to nearby towers that aren’t always in the same county as the caller. Officials estimate as many as 5,000 Tri-City calls go to the wrong dispatch center annually.
Franklin County and the city would each make a one-time $500,000 capital contribution to join SECOMM as voting partners. A memorandum of understanding is pending.