The Board of Commissioners meeting held May 17 covered many different topics, but the most debated aspect of that meeting and the prior Board of Commissioners meeting held on April 18, has proved to be the issue concerning access to the E911 Center. Chairman Cosby has been in disagreement with Sheriff Hobby’s interpretation of the law, and contacted the GBI’s (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) Georgia Crime Information Center to express “concerns” he had. In an attempt to address those concerns, a meeting was held on May 6 at the Chamber of Commerce between Mr. Cosby, Sheriff Jeff Hobby, E911 Director Kannetha Clem, Deputy Director Terry Gibbons and Assistant Deputy Director Christina Watts of the GBI’s GCIC Division, Commissioner Billy McDonald and County Clerk Renee Whidby.
Director Gibbons opened the meeting by explaining that “Each 911 may be a little bit different in what services they provide the local law enforcement but in this situation the Sheriff has a management control agreement because the 911 does his inquiries and entries.” She continued in her effort to explain the management control agreement as well as the security policies of the GCIC by saying “We are required to make sure that all of the local law enforcement that have access to criminal justice information, that is provided not only by the FBI but all the other states, is protected. As part of that there is a CJIC (Criminal Justice Information Center) security policy that all of the states and the FBI agree to, in terms of protecting data. Part of that is physical security of the location where that data is read, interpreted, documented and processed. Part of that requires if there is going to be someone who is not part of the law enforcement agency or criminal justice entity to either be escorted into that facility or if they are unescorted then there has to be some type of background done and some type of training. Again, it’s not the entire building it’s just that particular area where the activity is occurring.”
Director Gibbons further explained the other option available to the Board of Commissioners for entering the building. “Now we have also talked about unescorted access where if you want unescorted access you will have to do background checks and training which is required by the CJIC policy. The issue is still that you don’t have free reign even when you’re in there. That data, again, is criminal justice information – it is personal identifiable information that’s protected by the CJIC security policy which Georgia has signed in conjunction with all the other states and the FBI. As part of that, even unescorted, they would still ask the 911 and the Sheriff to take appropriate safeguards to protect any data. Even if you have unescorted access, you still are not authorized to consume that data because you are not a criminal justice employee.”
Commissioner McDonald spoke up and said, “I could live the rest of my life if I never walked in that building down there but the building is owned by the Board of County Commissioners. Everything that is bought and put in it is paid for by the taxpayers of this county. We as commissioners are elected to run this county and it’s just a question that I have. It’s no big issue. I’m not wanting to butt heads with the Sheriff, I’m not wanting to butt heads with anyone else.” McDonald clarified that he had already been fingerprinted and had a background check performed but that he had still been asked to leave the building by E911 Director Kannetha Clem.
Director Gibbons quickly defended Clem’s actions by stating, “First I want to clarify, it’s not the building. It’s only that part of the building…”
Commissioner McDonald responded with, “I’ve served this county for over 20 years. I’ve got sense enough to know that that’s off limits to me. My God, I wasn’t born yesterday.”
Still unsure of the chairman’s concerns, Director Gibbons again asked, “So I guess I’m not clear maybe what the issue is. The issue is you want to go into the building and even want to go into that physically secure area where that activity is occurring. Is escorting not sufficient for you to be able to do what you need to do as commissioner?”
Mr. Cosby responded, “Ma’am, we don’t need an escort to go into the building.”
Director Gibbons then questioned Sheriff Hobby about the setup of the building and the terminals to which he responded: “One room is secured. They can go in the building anywhere they want to. It’s that one room that’s secured. No public access.”
E911 Director Clem tried to better explain the setup by saying: “We have to buzz them in. It’s in a secured door. There are four terminals in the dispatch area and on each terminal there is a GCIC screen, at each console.” After this was discussed, Clem began to tell her side of the story concerning Commissioner McDonald’s unsuccessful visit to the center. “Mr. Billy did come in on a Saturday when I was not there. The center called me because we’re a full entry center, we’re not just inquiry. So we’re all the time doing warrants, protection orders, whatever we’ve got to do. I explained to Mr. Billy on the phone that I didn’t have a problem with him being in there but he had not met the security requirements to come into the center and I asked him to leave that day. I did follow up with an email to Denise McDaniel who is our auditor and asked her for clarification on what was required of commissioners when they wanted to come into the center and sit down and observe. Because that’s what he did, he came in and he sat down at a console and he wanted to observe. I needed to make sure that everything I had done was in accordance with the CJIC security policy. So yes, I did ask him to leave that day. Denise emailed me back and she said if they want to come in and sit for an undetermined amount of time these were the requirements that they had to meet. And they talked about the training, the background checks, the security and awareness statements. I printed three copies of that. One I gave to Chairman Cosby, one I gave to the county attorney and one I gave to the sheriff. Everybody had an opportunity to review them. On I believe it was March 26, we met at a board meeting or at a workshop where we were requested to be up there. I tried to explain it again that day that Mr. Billy has a background check done for a firearm application. I tried to explain to them that firearm applications are not the same as a check for being cleared to come into the 911 center. They are done for a different purpose code. On April the 11, I was at P.O.S.T. for a training and I received a phone call from the dispatcher saying that Chairman Cosby and Commissioner Gaines had come into the center. They were in there for less than 15 minutes. I notified the sheriff and I notified Denise because of some other concerns that I had additionally… I’ve told them that if they wanted to come in and out freely, these were the requirements that needed to be met and I was told I was “blowing smoke.””
Director Gibbons adamantly defined two ways to handle the issue, “One is escorted access so that you can come into that area and do what you need to do or unescorted which requires the background checks and the necessary training. And again there would still need to be some care taken while you’re in there.”
Sheriff Hobby added, “Now don’t get me wrong, we’re not trying to keep y’all out of the building or deny y’all access. We’re just trying to do it the legal way.” Cosby argued, “Well to me when we’re denied access to those areas, when we get pushed back, it puts a question in my mind of exactly what’s going on in the E911 center.” In response Director Gibbons stated, “I’m going to speak for the Sherif and say that the pushback comes from the fact that they are required to perform the CJIC security policy. And as part of that policy in those areas where that activity occurs you have to have physical security which means visitors who are not authorized personnel have to be escorted or unescorted with some conditions.”
Gibbons then requested that Assistant Deputy Director Christina Watts join the conversation to further explain the issue. “We are not trying to keep you from the building. We just have a responsibility of keeping the information secure… It’s sensitive information that has to be protected.” Commissioner McDonald previously mentioned about attending a class for county commissioners in Savannah where he had heard them say that commissioners were allowed to go and come as they please in the community buildings. According to Cosby, the ACCG (Association County Commissioners of Georgia) is “on top of things and wouldn’t say something like that that wasn’t right.” Cosby referenced entering several centers where precautions like these were not being taken. Sheriff Hobby explained that the particular administrators in question were more than likely escorted inside the building. At this point Director Gibbons requested the names of these counties and their administrators, to which Cosby replied, “These facilities were big facilities. They wasn’t Mickey Mouse operations.” Director Gibbons again responded with, “Sir every county, every entity that has access to criminal justice information has to abide by the CJIC security policy. I’m not saying the county that you said you visited does not. I won’t know until I talk to them but the requirements are the same for everyone.”
Trying to affirm the county’s control over the center, Commissioner McDonald later added, “The people that work down there – the chairman and I sign their paychecks, they are our employees. We have the control of hiring or firing them. Mrs. Clem don’t.”
Director Gibbons questioned McDonald, “What is it the solution that you want? You want access to the building and the physically secure area without escort anytime you want, is that what you want?” “That’s correct” he replied. Chairman Cosby then explained his biggest issue with the situation. “I guess one of the big burs in my side is this management agreement. Mrs. Clem is not of the authority through this Board of Commission to sign off on that E911 management agreement with the sheriff. And also in that management agreement it states that the Sheriff is basically over those people down there in that E911 department which is not so. He does not pay those people out of his budget. It is paid for by the Board of Commissions budget through the E911. I’ve got a big bur in my side over that.”
“I understand your frustration but you have to think that in order for him to do his job he has to have access to that information. That information is protected and controlled by the CJIC security policy. He has an agreement with GCIC and GBI that he can have access to that information and then he has a management control agreement which is required by the CJIC security policy if he’s going to have another entity which is the 911 to perform some of his functions for him. But the only reason the 911 can have access to that information is because he is the authority and he has given them that control. So without that management control agreement you can’t have that,” Director Gibbons replied. Cosby proposed the agreement should be revised and the Board should sign off on its’ content and give “their blessings.”
When Chairman Cosby again argued that he witnessed a chairman go inside of his county’s 911 center with no problem and continued to question why Worth County could not abide by those same rules, Sheriff Hobby answered, “What county was that?” Cosby snapped back, “I’m not gonna tell you what county it is.” After Sheriff Hobby asked Cosby twice what county that was, he finally responded with, “It was Tift County and I imagine they are a pretty strong organization over there.” Director Clem quickly explained that Tift County is a inquiry only agency that does drivers license and registrations only.
Cosby continued to argue his frustrations with the security policies by stating: “And to be basically handled like a kid, calling their daddy to get permission to go into a building that we own. I understand Jeff’s security issues but my interests are not GCIC… I don’t want to butt heads with the sheriff or Mrs. Clem. I want to have a good working relationship with both of them.” Director Gibbons reminded the chairman, “the protections are there for a reason.”
Attempting to reaffirm Gibbons statement to Cosby, Sheriff Hobby interjected, “All we’re asking is that you do the training and get the background checks and it’s over with. And you can go and that way everybody up on the board will be legal and everything.” To which Cosby replied, “I don’t have time Sheriff… I’m in that courthouse from about 9 o’clock in the morning and I leave at 7 o’clock.”
When discussing the issue of being escorted into the center, Cosby expressed his concerns, “I have no problem with Kannetha or Marci going back there with me. But when I ring the doorbell and the door opens and somebody asks me who I am and they don’t know who the chairman of the board of commissioners are they got problems. And when another commissioner is standing there with me and we get through the door and they ask who he is and he’s a commissioner, I have a problem with that. That they don’t know who the commissioners are in this county.”
Mike Cosby’s Personal Statement Regarding the E911 Center’s Security Policies at the Board of Commissioners Meeting on May 17, 2013
“As we continue on, I’d like to make a report on the meeting that was held on May 6 with the GCIC representatives. On May 6, 2013, Commissioner Billy McDonald, Rene Whidby, County Clerk and I met with Terry Gibbons, Deputy Director of GCIC, Christina Watts, Assistant Deputy Director GCIC, Sheriff Jeff Hobby and Kannetha Clem, Director E911. The subject of this meeting was security of GCIC and access to the E911 facilities by the Board of Commissioners. We met for about 90 minutes in the boardroom of the Chamber of Commerce. During this meeting several issues were discussed and solutions solved. Changes in the management agreement were discussed. One particular section that disturbed me was that section that gives to Sheriff oversight of the employees of E911, relating to supervision, hiring and firing of personnel. It was pointed out that the Sheriff has no authority over the employees of the E911 Center. It was suggested that this section of the management agreement be changed to reflect that the Sheriff has no supervision over E911 employees. The agreement should include the signature of the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners and a clear understanding of what the agreement entails should be fully explained. No agreement should be signed without full disclosure to the Board. Both Ms. Givens and Ms. Watts agreed to look at these changes. I suggested that the GBI should meet with representatives of the ACCG, as they were very concerned about what was taking place here in Worth County. An ACC representative stated that he was unaware of any similar circumstances occurring in any other county in Georgia. Both GBI representatives stated they would arrange a meeting to discuss these concerns with ACCG. As of today ACCG has not been contacted by the GBI. By the end of the meeting it was agreed that the Board of Commissioners did not have to call the Sheriff or E911 Director for permission to enter the building or dispatch area. The Board members could enter the E911 Center and dispatch area with an escort. Members of the Board do not have to go through the extensive procedures of awareness forms, fingerprints, background checks and other security checks discussed by the Sheriff at the April 18 meeting. Commissioner McDonald, Ms. Whidby and I all feel that we have accomplished what we were seeking. GCIC security remains intact and members of the Board can visit E911 when we deem it necessary to gather information.”