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February 15, 2017


Ark City

Friction seen in disputes between county, rural fire over call sign Editor’s note: This is the fourth part of a multi-part series. Prior installments can be viewed at By JENI McGEE The Cowley County consolidated 911 dispatch center came under scrutiny during a recent meeting of the City Commission of Arkansas City. After the meeting, Ark City Daily Bytes requested and inspected numerous emails, spinning more than a year and a half, from local government officials in order to verify claims made that night. The findings of this investigation are shared in this and future stories. Citizens interested in speaking out on this issue are urged to contact their county commissioner. Contact information can be found at and a map of the commission districts is located at

Commission_Districts. pdf. Rural fire friction Readers of this investigative series might develop the impression that most of the 911 dispatching issues have occurred only between Arkansas City’s public safety agencies and Cowley County Emergency Communications (CCEC), but that is an incomplete picture of the last 1 1/2 years. Since his hiring in December 2015, CCEC Director Carl Fortner has faced opposition and criticism regarding policy changes from several other agencies, most notably the volunteer fire services that combat fires in Atlanta, Burden, Cambridge, Dexter and rural eastern Cowley County. Two examples of this blowback concern the “re-branding” of the dispatch center’s radio call sign and the use of pagers for rural responders. Changes in both areas triggered immediate, critical responses from several rural fire

chiefs — responses that only became more heated when Fortner took action anyway despite initial concerns, leading to complaints that he was not listening to all of his constituents. In both scenarios, Fortner defended his actions and stayed the course, although one of the changes seems to have been reversed recently. ‘Cowley Center’ Late last June, Fortner sent an email to all Cowley County police and fire chiefs, trying to determine if any of them had concerns about CCEC changing its radio identifier from “dispatch” to “Cowley Center.” “I think you’ll see that I agree with everyone’s expectations of ‘clarity, brevity, and professionalism,’ and I do not plan to make wide-sweeping operational changes. I do, however, plan to do quite a bit of ‘tweaking’ in order to maximize efficiency and effectiveness,” Fortner writes. “CCEC should con-

tinue to answer when field personnel call ‘Dispatch,’ ‘Winfield,’ ‘Ark City,’ etc., but I’d like for them to call you by identifying themselves as ‘COWLEY CENTER.’” Other changes in radio traffic guidelines also were suggested in the email, including referring to fire districts by their number rather than the city in which they are based. Fortner said he’d prefer to wait for agreement by the Cowley County Rural Fire Chiefs Association on this last change. He said he would like to implement the changes July 1, 2016, and asked for any concerns to be raised to him by 11:59 p.m. June 29, 2016. His original email was sent at 11:43 a.m. June 27, 2016. “Like anything, it’ll take some time for everyone to adjust, but this is the direction I’d like to head,” Fortner said. ‘Cluttered and less clear’ The majority of Story continues on Page 3 →

Flame of Yelchin snuffed out far too soon, just as he flourished in ‘Beyond’ By JENI McGEE My first introduction to Anton Yelchin was when watching “Criminal Intent.” On the show, he played a very disturbed young man. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy that show, nor can I put my finger on why I enjoy Yelchin as much as I do. His career started long before that 2006 “Criminal Intent” appearance. In 2000, Yelchin appeared in a single episode of “ER.” Sadly, Yelchin died last year, thrusting him into the ranks of the “27 Club,” joining Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and many other celebrities who died at the age of 27. His career spans a total of 17 years, since there still are a few films he acted in that are being released this

year. While Yelchin had acted in a couple of notable franchises, the one most seem to be familiar with is Star Trek. He died very shortly before “Star Trek Beyond” was released, in an accident likely caused by a factory-recalled transmission issue in his Jeep. I avoided “Beyond” for five or six months after Yelchin’s death. I read somewhere before the movie was released that his character was given more screen time in “Beyond” than in the previous two installments, “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness.” However, I still could not bring myself to watch the movie right away. While I did not know Yelchin personally, I feel as if I watched him grow up. He was of Jewish and Russian descent, born to two figure

skaters. He was not interested in skating, but instead preferred acting. “Outside of his acting profession, Anton loved reading, and was also fond of playing chess. He wrote music and performed with a band, where he also played piano and guitar,” according to Eventually, I did finally watch “Star Trek Beyond.” I saw how the character had potential to grow and I saw Yelchin shine in his role. My heart was saddened that such a talented young man died so young and because of such a senseless accident. I’ll leave this blog post with some words from Yelchin and I think we all can stand to apply the truth of his words to our own circumstances: “The ability to have a choice in what you do is a privilege.”

Deadline extended for Cowley College Board of Trustees KOMA training By JENI McGEE The deadline for mandatory Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) legal training has been extended for the Cowley College Board of Trustees. The original completion date was set for Sept. 15, 2016, but that since has been extended to May 31. This mandatory training was the result of the board’s actions last July, when the trustees elected Jill Long to fill a seat on the board with a secret ballot.

The seat Long was appointed to fill had been left empty by Jim Ramirez’s resignation last May. The term will expire in January 2020. It was determined by then-Cowley County Attorney Christopher Smith that a violation of KOMA did occur when the trustees used a secret ballot to vote. In a letter addressed to the college’s legal counsel, David Andreas, Smith explained his findings. “After reading contemporaneous news accounts, listening to a recording of the meeting and speaking to

individuals who were present, I have determined that no investigation is necessary and no documentation will be needed from you or the board,” the letter states. “It is very clear that the Cowley College Board of Trustees violated the letter and spirit of the KOMA.” In accordance with Kansas law, the college will have to take several actions to correct the illegal vote. “To correct the KOMA violation and stop this matter from proceeding to a court hearing,” Smith writes, “the Cowley College Board

of Trustees need to do the following: • “call a special meeting of the board within seven days from the date of this letter for the purpose of rescinding the appointment of Ms. Jill Long to the board.” (This occurred Aug. 8, 2016.) • “hold a new vote, within full public view, for the selection of a person to fill the vacant trustee position from the previous candidates.” (This also occurred Aug. 8, 2016.)

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those who responded to Fortner’s email — based on the emails obtained through several open records requests — were against changing the call sign from “dispatch.” “I really think Dispatch is more of a correct name for the dispatch center,” observed Udall Fire Chief Randy Hoffman, chairman of Cowley County Rural Fire Chiefs Association. “I can see calling communications by the identifier of ‘Dispatch’ or ‘County’ but ‘Cowley Center’ to me makes it cluttered and less clear,” said Burden Fire Chief Dan McClaskey. “And I will not agree to referring to the fire departments as ‘Station #’ or ‘District #’ ... The rest of the tweaks I don’t see a problem with.” “I guess my question is Why?” Arkansas City Fire Chief Bobby Wolfe asked in a June 28, 2016, email to Fortner. “I would first like to have our dispatch times correct. This is a more pressing need. I would rather ‘tweak’ our department operations so we can get proper times...” Cowley County Emergency Management Director Brian Stone appeared to be the only supporter of

the change, as far as email is concerned. “I do not have a concern with the suggested name change,” he said. “I can tell you that change is never easy. Thanks again, Carl, for being proactive and keeping us all in the loop.” While he did not vocally support the change, Arkansas City Police Chief Dan Ward offered Fortner some encouragement. “Hang in there brother!” he wrote July 1, 2016, the first day the “Cowley Center” name went into effect. “Change is very difficult here in Cowley.” Charging ahead Despite the opposition from fire chiefs, Fortner continued forward in his effort to change the radio identifier. In a June 30, 2016, email, he instructed his dispatchers on the new procedures they should observe: “At 00:00:01 on July 1, 2016 we will be changing our station identification from DISPATCH to COWLEY CENTER. You may still hear field personnel refer to us as ‘Dispatch,’ ‘Winfield,’ etc., and I expect you to continue to answer them. But when you’re calling them back, dispatching a call, or verbally providing incident data,

you should refer to our station as ‘COWLEY CENTER.’” Again, the response was immediate — and noticeably more defiant. “I am disappointed that you chose to go forward with this change when I didn’t see another department support it,” Hoffman said July 1, 2016. “It makes no sense and is not commonly used. It doesn’t save time or words on the radio. It confuses the issue and will confuse other counties and agencies when trying to communicate with Dispatch. My department plans to continue calling dispatch by the correct name: Cowley Dispatch.” “My stance as chief of the Burden fire department is I really don’t care what you call yourself. My department is going

to continue to contact your staff on the appropriate county channels and refer to dispatch as dispatch. If you want to refer to your department as Cowley Center, that’s your choice as that department head,” McClaskey said. “Cowley County, Cowley Communications or Cowley Dispatch seems more acceptable to me but that’s not really my choice, only my preferences.” “I agree with (McClaskey) all the way and believe Cowley Dispatch is what any agency would normally say when trying to contact,” Hoffman said July 3, 2016. “I don’t believe they would ever remember to call them something out of the normal like center. Hopefully some other chiefs will chime in after the holidays.”

Classified The Ark City Chamber is seeking a Promotions Assistant to start immediately. This position is part-time (30 hours) and will play an integral role in the Marketing of Chamber business members and will work with goal-oriented, fun individuals in a fastpaced environment to execute projects that are faithful to our members and beneficial to the consumer. The Promotions Assistant must have graphic design knowledge and exceptional people skills. To apply, contact the Ark City Chamber at 442-0230. A resume and references are expected.

Building Trades Board to resume complaint discussion after tabling it By JENI McGEE A special meeting of the Arkansas City Building Trades Advisory Board was convened last week due to a written complaint from Donaldson Construction regarding actions taken by a City of Arkansas City code enforcement official. Owner Rodney Donaldson was hired as a general contractor for Winfield landlord Sandra Picconatto to work on a house on South E Street.

The complaint was filed against Neighborhood Services Superintendent Richard Brown and included accusations that Brown’s action had ruined the home. But several general contractors on the Building Trades Board insisted that was not true, only that the repairs would be more costly. “Brown ordered (Picconatto) to cut two feet of floor from the wall out along the entire length of the floor on the interior/ exterior walls, for a

four room house that is every room and every wall,” Donaldson’s complaint states. Brown said the only cutting had occurred along the exterior walls. “I again asked why he had her remove this floor like this. He didn’t answer,” Donaldson writes. “I informed him that what he ordered done had weakened the floor and he said ‘no sir it has not.’ Any idiot will tell you that it did.” Several trades board members also disputed this claim.

During the meeting, Donaldson, Brown and Picconatto all were given the opportunity to speak. Brown defended his authority, under the International Code Cycle recently adopted by the City Commission, to order any work necessary to inspect the safety of residential structures. However, other local landlords argued there were cheaper ways to access a small crawlspace under the house in order to inspect the subfloor.

Relive the best decade ever with Cowley College’s ‘Awesome ’80s Prom’ Staff Report Cowley College’s Brown Center will be host to “The Awesome ’80s Prom” this weekend. The show will start at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday in the Wright Room, located at 215 S. Second St. This interactive theatrical performance features characters inspired by ’80s movie favorites — “from the captain of the football team to the Asian exchange student, from the geek to the head cheerleader, and so many more,” states a release from the Cowley College theater program. Audience members are encouraged to dress up in ’80s wear and there will be door prizes for those who do. Everyone in attendance will compete for Prom king and queen, and the audience will decide who wins. General admission for the event is $10 per person, while

tickets for students and Blue Star Military Families are $8. Tickets may be purchased in person from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today through Friday at the Cowley Box Office, located in the lobby of the Brown Center; via telephone using a credit card at (620) 441-5570; or online at The cast for this production includes: • Blake Williams — Payton Latney; • Michael Jay — Tanner Hollister; • Louis Fensterspock — Michael Rodriguez; • Feung Schwey — Steven Lu; • Nicki Fender — Alex Lisenbee; • Whitley Whitiker — Jazmynn Burris; • Kerrie Kowalski — Ali Pack; • “Missy” Martin — Hannah Coryea; • Inga Swanson — Jessica

Burk; • Dickie Harrington — Ross Ferris; • Mr. “Dick” Snelgrove — Cory Blevins; • Mrs. Lascalzo (Mrs. L) — Tori Vansteinberg; • Heather Wellington — Hannah Short; • Heather Wynters — Courtney Wallace; • “Beef” Beefarowski — Julian Cornejo; • Johnny Hughes (Joani) — Monet Watson; • Lloyd Parker — Josh Wolf; • Molly Parker — Claudia Sprague; • Special Guest Star — Michael Rodriguez; • Male Swing — Tim Hardman; • Female Swing #1 — Jenny Thivongsa; • Female Swing #2 — Bri Guevara; • Mrs. L Understudy — Tiffany Tatum.

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