ONLY ON 3: Fired dispatcher defends 'chats' on 911 equipment
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Eleven dispatchers for the Hamilton County 911 Unified Emergency Communications District have been disciplined after managers concluded they misused the 'CHAT' function on their equipment by spreading gossip or violating standards spelled out in their Code of Conduct.
But Teresa McIntosh maintains that the investigation targeted her specifically, and that's why she lost her appeal after managers fired her April 23.
"I do feel like I was singled out in the investigation," she says. "You can't have a six-month investigation, but go back two years or more on 'CHAT-box'."
"It (CHAT-box gossiping) has been going on forever," McIntosh says.
McIntosh describes the 'CHAT-box' as a form of stress-relief, for a job that mixes periods of 'down-time' with a flurry of calls for service for police, fire and emergency medical aid.
"Especially if you're tied to your seat three hours before you can get up and go move, get away from it," she says. "We talk about work, leisure time, personal issues."
Sometimes, she admits, the language had gotten rough.
She says managers alleged she violated several provisions of the District's Code of Conduct when they suspended her April 16, and fired her a week later.
Among them; failure to be courteous to supervisors and co-workers, to the point of insubordination, either by failing or refusing to obey orders or disputing orders with disrespectful, mutinous, insolent or abusive language.
"Never, ever, did I not do anything that I was told," McIntosh says. "As far as respect, I have given as much respect as I received."
In a news release April 26, Executive Director John Stuermer stated that the CHAT feature "provides for the rapid dissemination of time critical event information through instant messaging between on-duty communicators."
The Code of Conduct states, simply, "equipment should be used only for its intended purpose."
"But again, nobody said anything about it," McIntosh says."Nobody told us not to. It was never addressed as being a misuse of equipment."
The Code of Conduct forbids 'talking shop' on Facebook or other social media. Communications or discussions mentioned specifically include "District business, calls for service, or dispatched calls, any 'client agency' business, personnel or personnel actions or anything that might reflect poorly on the District."
McIntosh maintains that CHAT messaging has included discussion of management actions, or lack of actions, and whether race has been a factor in promotions, assignments and discipline.
"There were those, both black and white, who agreed that there is favoritism with the supervisors," she says.
"We still have one more disciplinary appeal to hear," Director Stuermer tells Channel 3 Tuesday morning, declining a request for an on-camera interview.
"All employees have received copies of the Code of Conduct, and signed off that they understood it."
Stuermer has reiterated his promise in the April 26, news release to make further information available once that appeal is heard.
Channel 3, citing Tennessee's Open Records Law, has requested that the 911 District and Hamilton County's Department of Human Resources open the personnel files of the 11 dispatchers investigated and disciplined.
Channel 3 also has asked to review print-outs of the CHAT conversations that prompted the investigation and disciplinary actions.
"We found no evidence that the District's ability to provide timely emergency service to citizens or first responders was impaired or jeopardized," Stuermer said in the April 26, release.
"The proof of that is my last evaluation," McIntosh maintains.
But McIntosh says that another requirement in the Code of Conduct suggests management has ulterior motives.
Under Section BB, Supervisory Responsibility, supervisory personnel are charged with enforcing "all general orders, the Code, and administrative directives or requests. The failure of any supervisor to meet his or her responsibilities shall be considered as neglect of duty, or failure to supervise, or both."
"They (managers) have known about it (CHAT gossiping) for a long time," McIntosh says. "They have ignored it."