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— Like a fish out of water, Benton County Judge Dave Bisbee has flipflopped on his decision to nix reverse-911 service.

Bisbee informed members of the Quorum Court on Thursday night that the decision on whether to implement a telephone-notification system in Benton County would be entirely up to justices of the peace.

"I did not think (reverse 911) was a very big issue," Bisbee said. "It has obviously become a very big issue."

Before discussing reverse 911 in detail, Bisbee publicly apologized to former County Judge Gary Black.

"I want to publicly apologize to Gary Black. He was a very good judge, and he did not deserve to be disparaged," Bisbee said.

Earlier this week, Bisbee asked the question of why emergency management had not implemented reverse 911, especially since the department had the green light from the previous administration's Quorum Court and the funding for the project.

During Thursday's Quorum Court meeting, Bisbee answered that question.

Reverse-911 contracts had been caught up in legal wrangling over speech in the contract with AT&T that asked the county to release and hold harmless AT&T for phone numbers provided for the reverse-911 system.

Those contracts were found on county attorney George Spence's desk, awaiting an answer fromhim on how to proceed with the situation, Bisbee said, making certain to point out that he had only learned about the contracts recently.

Justice Marge Wolf questioned Spence about whether any county had ever been sued as a result of a reverse-911 system.

"Not that I am aware of," Spence said.

Justice James Wozniak has asked that same question to six companies specializing in telephone-notification systems.

None of them has ever been sued for liability in the more than 10 years they have been operating.

"If you are no good, you would not last that long," Wozniak said.

With that, Judge Bisbee uttered the magic words, breathing new life into what had largely been considered a dead topic: reverse 911.

"Let's see if the county wants to implement reverse 911," Bisbee said.

"Let's decide if we want to pay for it, if we want to co-op it or if we want to pay for it out of a grant," Bisbee said.

Despite the county judge's sudden change of heart, some JPs expressed their overriding concern about the situation the county found itself in with regard to implementing a telephone-notification system.

"I am very, very concerned individually as a justice of the peace that this seems to me to be the defining tendency for a method of operation," Justice Bob Stephenson said.

"It seems to me that sometimes not enough looking is done before the leaping is done," Stephenson said. "When something like this happens, it not only gets egg on the county judge and his staff, but all of us."

Another issue of concern was the county judge and his staff reversing a decision made by the Quorum Court with how grant money was spent.

"I am having a little bit of a problem with reallocating grant money for expenditures without it going through the Quorum Court," Justice Kurt Moore said.

"I am overwhelmed to think that money would be moved without us knowing. That is the purpose of the Quorum Court as the guardians or the protectors of the fisc (treasury)," Stephenson said.

Bisbee assured JPs that he and his administration would do better in the future and would call emergency meetings of the Quorum Court to reallocate funds if necessary.

"We did it (spent $65,000 for security cameras without approval of the Quorum Court) because of time constraints," Bisbee said.

"I will lose the money before it does not go through Quorum Court next time," Bisbee said. "I do not think we will ever have this discussion again."

Code Red, a national provider of telephone-notification systems, will provide a demonstration of its system for justices of the peace at 10 a.m. Aug. 10 in the Quorum Court Room of the Benton County Administration Building in Bentonville.

The demonstration will be open to the public.

Community, Pages 3 on 07/29/2009

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