Saying he fully understood “the outrage that’s happening across the country” regarding the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Highland County commissioner Gary Abernathy said Wednesday that his office had received calls from concerned citizens asking if Saturday’s scheduled protest march in Hillsboro could be prevented.
“I happened to take a call and told them, ‘No, this is America and peaceful protests are allowed and welcome,” Abernathy said during Wednesday’s commissioners meeting. “And we certainly feel that way.”
As previously reported in The Times-Gazette, organizers described Saturday’s planned march as a peaceful racial injustice protest in uptown Hillsboro.
Lynchburg resident John Keyser, the event’s main organizer, wrote in a Facebook post that there would be no looting, rioting, starting fires or blocking of roads.
“If it’s conducted the way it’s described in the newspaper, that would be great,” Abernathy said. “I would just encourage people that this is what America is all about — peaceful protests — and encourage the community to welcome it and let it happen, and to encourage the protesters to make sure it does turn out be a peaceful thing.”
Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera echoed Abernathy’s sentiments, saying that every American should cherish their rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution, which in addition to guaranteeing the right of assembly, also protects freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to petition.
“I talked to the organizer of this yesterday when he came to my office,” Barrera said. “I told him as long as everything is peaceful, I encourage them to exercise their rights, and we’ll be there to support you, one way or the other. Keep it peaceful and make it good news for Highland County and show that we can have something peaceful here and make news that way.”
Also Wednesday, deputy Scott Miller, the 9-1-1 coordinator for Highland County, told commissioners that “we are one step closer to the 9-1-1 upgrade with us getting the grant.”
As previously reported, last November commissioners were advised that the current system was outdated with the last upgrade being done in 2015 for nearly $180,000.
At that time, Miller said upgrading was necessary to make the county “next-gen compliant” with enhancements like text to 9-1-1 capability for cell phone users, and a built-in program that would provide GPS coordinates for cell phone locations.
He told commissioners that with the grant secured and after getting contracts signed, the upgrades to the system could be in place “within a year if not sooner.”
Michael Higgins of Central Square Technologies proposed to commissioners that they upgrade the recording and dispatch capabilities of the sheriff’s office in the same fashion that the 9-1-1 system will be upgraded.
“The current system is 20-plus years old and isn’t really compliant with a lot of regulations that are coming down from the federal and state,” Higgins said. “So what we’ve proposed is to go ahead and migrate it to the next generation system that is integrated with the 9-1-1 system so it all works together.”
He said the “next gen” system proposed would include 9-1-1 emergency service, as well as Computer Assisted Dispatch, in addition to providing deputies in the field with incident information directly onto their cell phones or other digital device.
“In reality, this proposal is about deputy safety, citizen safety and in saving the county costs,” Higgins said. “For all of the manual work people have to do to keep the current system compliant, this proposal would save the county a lot of money.”
He added that with the enhanced capabilities of the newer system, it would give the sheriff better flexibility at repurposing personnel into other avenues, and free them from dealing with sometimes burdensome procedures and paperwork.
“With this system, everything gets wrapped into one thing,” Barrera said. “The maintenance fee on our jail system alone is $4,000 a year, and this will take care of all of our paperwork that we have to do to process our civil papers and we won’t have to do the Excell spread sheets anymore.”
Abernathy recommended they take Higgins’ proposal under consideration so they could examine the proposal more closely and review its expenditures.
Also Wednesday, two resolutions were approved; one to support the work of the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commissioners Economic Development District through Dec. 31, 2021, and the other to authorize commission president Jeff Duncan to submit an application for Community Development Block Grant funding to the Ohio Development Services Agency.
A total of four contracts were approved. One was with the Highland County Community Action Organization for the CHIP 2020 Community Housing Impact Preservation Program, two others between the commissioners and Modern Office Methods, and one with Central Square Technologies in support of the county’s 9-1-1 service upgrade.
The commissioners then went into twin executive sessions to meet with Brown/Rayburn concerning insurance, followed by a discussion related to economic development.
They reconvened Wednesday at 1 p.m. to perform rank and review on Community Development Block Grant projects.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.