Monday, April 18, 2016

E-911 panel recommends cutting ties with long-time director Coker

Bob Coker
In a move that was not unexpected, a panel of emergency responders and local leaders on Monday recommended cutting ties with the embattled executive director of the Knox County E-911 Center.

In a 4-0 vote, the personnel committee for the E-911 Board of Directors agreed to pay Bob Coker three months' worth of salary, which amounts to almost $34,700.

In addition, Coker, who has come under fire for months now, will get another $1,225 to cover his unused vacation time.

The full E-911 Board of Directors meets Wednesday morning and is expected to approve the deal.
The panel also recommended placing Alan Bull, the center’s technical services manager, into the interim executive director position.

“Ultimately, we agreed it was in the best interest of all parties if we ended the contract,” said Stan Sharp, chief of the Knoxville Fire Department and chairman of the personnel committee.

Coker, the center’s director for the past decade, faced a scathing employee review, problems with the department’s dispatch system and controversy over a multi-million dollar radio contract – all within the past year.

Further, last month a number of board members expressed dissatisfaction with his overall performance and questioned his leadership.

On Monday, the panel members talked briefly about their options. They could try to fire him with cause or sign off on a proposal hammered out between Sharp and Coker.

"I think it is reasonable," said Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, a panel member. "Certainly that middle ground – whenever you have to push a termination for cause it takes time; it’s not good for the organization. And I think we’ve seen accomplishments over Mr. Coker's term and I think we’ve seen some things we’d like for improvements and this is a good middle ground."

Coker declined to comment Monday.

Coker’s current contract ends June 30, 2017 but it would automatically roll over for another year beginning July 1. The contract has a provision that the 11-member board of directors can terminate him with a majority “plus one” vote, and pay him his salary for the following six months. But, if the board finds cause to fire him, then it doesn’t have to cover his pay.

Coker, who took over the center in 2005 and earns about $130,000 annually, can step down on his own but must give a 60-day notice.

Board members during the past year have expressed disappointment in Coker a number of times. There’s been problems with the center’s $6.2 million computer-aided dispatching system, or CAD, which faced several cost overruns during its implementation.

In addition, twice last year the board declined to approve an almost $9 million contract that would replace the radio system emergency responders use to communicate between each other.

Board members also questioned whether Coker tried to influence the bidding process.

Harris Communications won the bid, but the board declined to sign off on the contract, and expressed interest in continuing to work with Motorola Solutions, which has served the center for decades.

Board members accused Coker of trying to bring Harris on board without going through an official selection process.

Coker has denied the accusations.

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