FIRST ON 3: Personnel records offer clues to 911 firings, suspensions
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Administrators have yet to reveal what gossip drew discipline for 11 dispatchers of Hamilton County's 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Center.
But Channel 3 has reviewed those dispatchers' personnel files, which reveal a mix of commendations for performance under stress, and condemnation for frequent tardiness, occasional rudeness and infrequent, but significant instances of neglect of duty.
"Everybody down there is too afraid to stand up and say anything to them for fear of losing their job," says Teresa McIntosh, one of two dispatchers Eyewitness News has confirmed was fired over her use of the CHAT function on the Center's Computer-Aided-Dispatch (CAD) equipment.
McIntosh concedes her CHAT conversations included rough language. But she insists she was fired for criticizing management.
"They don't want you disagreeing with them on anything," she says.
McIntosh cites a CHAT message in January, referring to a news item involving a doctor accused of practicing plastic surgery without proper training, or regard for safety.
"This is funnier than s---t," she wrote. "Some dumb a-- so-called lypo doctor put fix-a-flat in some women's a--- instead of whatever else they use! Showed his dumb a-- on this. I laughed my a---off!"
"If there was such a big violation of CHAT, why was I not disciplined at all, or brought to my attention at that time," she asks. "Other than the supervisor laughing at it when I gave it to her?"
McIntosh's personnel file makes no mention of the incident.
But March 30, the Center's Executive Director, John Stuermer issued a memo regarding "Inappropriate Use of Chat" that cited a "direct violation of the District's policies and procedures."
"These types of activities are in direct conflict with the intended and approved use of CHAT...and will not be tolerated," the memo continued. "I have instituted a policy that will immediately begin the routine and random review of CHAT logs for appropriate use."
Stuermer's memo did not name the alleged violators.
But five days later, personnel records reveal that administrators had written up dispatchers George Ball and John Hodges for a CHAT conversation that appeared to mock a co-workers' injury claim and "contained foul language, substituted with letters and symbols, but the intent was clear."
"I suspect that specific employee complained," labor attorney Jerry Tidwell claims. "And apparently was made aware of some of the chat boxes related to that person."
Tidwell represents dispatcher Marilyn Jones. Like McIntosh, she was fired as part of the subsequent investigation into allegations of CHAT equipment misuse.
Her personnel records reveal Jones scored a 3.23 on a 5-point scale in her most recent annual performance evaluation. The file cites 13 positive daily evaluations.
But Jones also has been cited four times for 'neglect of duty,' and served a one-day suspension after her fifth instance of dispatching first-responders to an incorrect address.
Jones appealed her termination, and was rehired.
"I think she's convinced them that she really wanted to work there," Tidwell says. "And all she was complaining about was strictly work conditions and issues on the job."
McIntosh claims that's all she did too.
But personnel records reveal she received a 2.75 out of 5 on her most recent performance evaluation. Supervisors gave her high 3's and 4's for work knowledge and effort, but 1's for 'influencing others' and 'quality of work'.
Supervisors have cited her for rudeness violations of the Code of Conduct four times, beginning with a complaint last August that she'd used 'loud profanity in front of co-workers'.
Her most recent allegation involves a dispatch call for an ambulance April 9. The supervisor alleges that McIntosh CHAT-messaged colleagues that once the medical team reached the caller "have them slap the s--t out of her."
"There isn't anything I've said on CHAT box that hasn't been said by another person on the CHAT box openly, or on the floor," McIntosh says. "I was a target, the rest of the people were sacrificial lambs."
Besides her file, and Jones, none of the other dispatchers' personnel records reflect what CHAT language got them suspended, or for how long.
Stuermer says that information won't go into their jackets until the last disciplinary appeal is heard.
But Tidwell says the Center's investigation shouldn't end with that.
"They need to look into some of the allegations that the CHAT conversations may raise," he says. "The sense of fairness that applies to rules and regulations, would imply that they should pursue that investigation too."ONLY ON 3: Fired dispatcher defends 'chats' on 911 equipment