Manatee County Commission abolishes 911 call system committee

MANATEE -- An ad hoc committee appointed to help with an upgrade of Manatee County's aging 911 emergency call system was abolished Thursday.

Manatee County commissioners voted unanimously to dissolve the committee after their attorney warned its members would be subject to open meetings requirements of the Sunshine Law, and could not legally discuss the 911 system outside of a public meeting.

However, discussions on a multimillion-dollar upgrade will continue in a less formal forum, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker told the board.

Hunzeker said he will be exchanging ideas with municipal police chiefs and mayors to "talk about how they will proceed."

"There will be lots of discussion," said Commissioner Betsy Benac.

Hunzeker plans to host an informal session Tuesday for anyone who wants to attend, he said after the commission meeting at the offices of the Manatee County Port Authority at Port Manatee.

"Whoever wants to talk to the county administrator can," said Robert Eschenfelder, deputy county attorney.

The county 911 system is approaching obsolescence.

Two weeks ago, the commission charged the now-disbanded committee with guiding it toward a new, high-tech emergency call system, appointing County Commissioner John Chappie as chairman.

The upgrade, expected to cost as much as $6 million, has been proposed to improve efficiency and cut down the chances of error, officials have said.

The current system routing phone calls to emergency workers now operates on 40-year-old technology. Its copper telephony-based system will be replaced by a fiber network based on Internet protocol.

The next-generation 911 system will allow citizens to text, email or send video to emergency operators.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.