Roger Wilson will be hard to replace at E-911

Ed Howell
Posted 7/27/17

Let’s clean out the notebook ...

• First, one of the great regrets now that I will have in coming back is that I will not work with Walker County E-911 Director Roger Wilson, who died on Tuesday. I saw him, I think, just once, maybe twice at …

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Roger Wilson will be hard to replace at E-911

Posted

Let’s clean out the notebook ...

• First, one of the great regrets now that I will have in coming back is that I will not work with Walker County E-911 Director Roger Wilson, who died on Tuesday. I saw him, I think, just once, maybe twice at recent commission meetings. He looked OK, but I knew he was dealing with serious health issues. I wish I had more of a chance to talk with him.

Roger was one of the brightest spots in county government, maybe not just in Walker County, but across any county government in Alabama. He pushed for the professionalism and the best in emergency response. Facebook is also filled with 911 officials speaking of Roger. The Blount County 911 group said he was instrumental in establishing the state 911 board and had served as president of the Alabama chapter of the National Emergency Number Association and the Alabama Association of 911 Districts.

In some ways, he was such a leader that his work sometimes bled over into local emergency management work in general, and for a long time people seemed to turn to him first in many ways. Of late, he was the man who was working to get applications made to install storm shelters in the county.

I will quickly point out that the current EMA director, Regina Myers, has also gotten good marks, and I think Roger would feel the E-911 office is in good hands. About a week or two ago, the Walker County E-911 Board began making changes in the idea of making sure things were done in Roger’s absence; now they will look at permanent changes, and a new leader will be hired. (It has been so long that at this writing we are asking each other in the newsroom whether the board makes that appointment or the commission; officials indicate they think it will be the board who has that duty.)

It will be a major change to make, almost to the point of taking over for a legend. But I think Roger set up such a good organization and example that the likelihood will be that it will be a smooth transition. I think the board will feel the need to make the right appointment.

Roger always worked well with the Daily Mountain Eagle, and did much through our pages to promote emergency response. To say he will be missed, both personally and professionally, is an understatement. I think you will find county and state officials genuinely grieved.

•By the way, with Roger’s death will also hopefully result in less confusion for State Farm insurance agent Roger E. Wilson in Jasper, who actually is now in charge of the political action committee trying to pass Walker County’s proposed 1-cent sales tax. He actually knew of the other Roger Wilson and liked him, but he noted in recent months people were repeatedly asking about his health, as people had heard he was not well. (I know the feeling, as another Ed Howell was in the Hamilton area at one time, resulting in bills getting mixed up at times.)

•I noticed a question online about the 1-cent sales tax, particularly about what happens when then debt is paid. I can tell you that all funds to start with are put in the General Fund, and then spending and disbursements are made. Leftover funds are used for the county’s roads and bridges, and that would just be added to the mixed.

However, when members of the Walker County Commission and the local mayors met, some in the room also mentioned the fact that over 15 years, new debt could easily be created as new projects can come up (especially as aging infrastructure breaks down). However, that section ends with “for up to the next 15 years or until final repayment.” I would bet legislative intent with the enabling legislation will lean toward capping debt payments at 15 years, or repayment before then, and then it will all go to roads. You might could do a short-term 10 year bond issue in that time, but most of the ones I always hear about are 20 or 30 years in scope.

•We may address more about this later, but there has been an interesting development at the Walker County Jail that may be part of a larger trend. The jail posted an announcement saying that as of July 1, no more personal visitations would be allowed in the jail. Instead, the county is going strictly to tablet technology from Telmate that has been used for a couple of years to communicate with prisoners there through video technology. One may make an appointment at home online or at the video machine in the lobby, but actual visitations will all be in the lobby.

One hour of video visitation is allowed per week, according to the announcement, and more than that will be charged. According to one news report, inmates there pay about 22 cents per call, a rate set by the Federal Communications Commission, and Walker County collects about 56 percent of the costs. Past visitation was limited to one day a week, with no children under 16 allowed.

Now, according to the announcement, supervised children in the lobby will be able to see the prisoners, and visitations will be done on weekdays, except for holidays, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. No cell phones will be allowed to be present.

A look through the internet shows other jails across the nation are resorting to the same method, cutting out personal visitation. Needless to say, many of the reports note that cutting out personal visits also cuts down on contraband being passed to prisoners, and the visits can be monitored for information.

However, a media report concerning a simular action at Bristol County’s jail in North Dartmouth, Mass., raised concern with the American Civil Liberties Union, saying that “cutting off the human contact is cruel to people in jail, their families and loved ones,” and that video is no substitute for being in the same room. They also said fees can be “prohibitively expensive,” and noted one bill had been filed by a state senator in Massachusetts to ensure personal visits are not eliminated and that fees for video visitation are reasonable.

I want to do a story on this in time, particularly on the financial and civil liberty aspects of this subject. This is a trend that is not going away locally or nationally.

Ed Howell is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s news editor.