Last Thursday, March 19, shortly before 10 p.m., I was channel surfing and stopped for a few minutes to watch the live broadcast of the Seaside city council meeting. I came in at the end of a presentation about the library, and after a minute or so they invited public comments. I probably would have moved on to better entertainment, but the first person to speak happened to be someone I knew, so I stuck around.
As she was speaking, someone in the council chambers began moaning very loudly. The woman stopped speaking, turned around and said “We need an EMT.” The video cut to a wide shot of the dais where I saw Councilman Dennis Alexander’s chair turned around and his right arm was moving erratically. Men in police or fire uniforms were rushing to his aid as Councilman Jason Campbell jumped out of their way. The mayor called a recess and the screen went dark. It was such a disturbing scene that I was shaking for the next 10 minutes.
I tuned into the 11 o’clock news to see what had happened. KSBW didn’t mention it all, but KION had a reporter at the meeting and she said it had been cut short because a City Council member had a medical emergency and was taken away in an ambulance. She said he looked OK, but had no further details. She didn’t even say which council member fell ill.
I fully expected to hear more about the incident on Friday when, presumably, more information would come to light. But again, KSBW had nothing. KION briefly repeated the same vague information from the night before, but only as a footnote to a story about the council’s activities. The Monterey Herald and Monterey County Weekly newspapers also missed the story entirely, especially odd for the Weekly, which covers Seaside pretty closely and posts stories daily on its website. We have to wait a couple more days to see if the Carmel Pine Cone mentions it.
It’s a mystery to me how an elected official being hauled away from a public meeting in an ambulance, with dozens of witnesses, can almost completely escape the notice of the local news media. I certainly hope he’s OK. The news folks should be keeping us informed so we don’t have to guess.
By a strange coincidence, the reason KION was at Thursday’s council meeting was that the city is thinking of dropping out of Monterey County’s emergency 911 dispatch service and taking the city’s business elsewhere, either to a new agency of its own making or possibly to Santa Cruz County’s call center. A couple days earlier it was reported that Salinas and Pacific Grove were planning to do the same, and as of this week it looks like Del Rey Oaks will join them. What in blazes is going on?
I follow local news pretty closely, but until last week I can’t recall hearing a single complaint about emergency dispatch services. Not a peep. Now all of a sudden it’s a major problem. If reports are accurate, the cities say they’re paying a lot for the county to provide 911 service but the cities don’t have much say in how it’s run. OK, I can see why that might be a problem, but not one of sufficient severity to jump up and say, “We’re outta here.”
Perhaps this is some sort of political ploy to get the county’s attention, but I can think of less alarming ways to accomplish that. The appropriate thing for these cities to do is pass resolutions asking for greater influence on call center management, or ask to renegotiate the arrangements, and see how the county responds. Instead, four cities have abruptly said they want a divorce, and have done so with almost no public discussion. Until last week the issue wasn’t even on the public radar.
The idea that cities in Monterey County could afford to start a 911 system from scratch, or successfully move their 911 services to a neighboring county is difficult to believe in the absence of any formal studies. KSBW reported that Santa Cruz County’s facilities would require a major and costly expansion to accommodate our cities. Worse, by having separate dispatch services, local cities would isolate themselves from neighboring police and fire districts, which could hamper mutual aid calls. And what will happen to Monterey County’s emergency call center if it loses a major source of funding? It doesn’t look like local cities have thought through their position very well. So why are they so eager to bail out? That’s the second emergency mystery this week.
James Toy is a native of Carmel, currently living in Seaside, who occasionally gets involved in local political matters. He is the creator of a community-oriented website called The Monterey Peninsula Toy Box at www.montereypeninsula.info. This commentary also appears on that site.