Veterans draw a phone line in the sand

Service officers want their own system, county commissioners resist

LISBON — The county Veterans Service Commission approached the county commissioners Wednesday morning renewing their request for a new phone system for their offices. The dispute became heated.

Kevan Wain, the senior service officer at the VSC, told commissioners the organization has twice previously requested the money for a new phone system. After listening to the suggestions of Commissioner Tim Weigle about going along with other agencies in a countywide system, Wain said they still are unconvinced.

The group of men attending from the VSC went over some of their concerns about going with the county telephone system, renewing their request to go with their own system.

Wain noted he disagrees with the county commissioners that allowing the VSC to have its own phone system would set a precedent. Wain said right now the VSC has its own system. However, that phone system was purchased in 2012 when the VSC moved into the county government services building. While it did some of the things the VSC wanted, the system was already discontinued when it was purchased and there are some problems with headsets.

Additionally, Wain said they have concerns there are some things with the county system which will not do what they want it to do. The system the VSC is currently looking at is reportedly more robust, allows them to work while they are out of the office, protects the phone numbers of VSC members using phantom numbers and allows them to pull up phone calls on their computers.

While Weigle had previously pointed to a 2011 House bill as allowing county commissioners to centralize services, including for the VSC, Wain said he can find nothing in the law which allows them to force the VSC to centralize its phone services.

The House bill does allow for the centralization of many county offices including the VSC. The services specifically authorized under the law are purchasing, printing, transportation, vehicle maintenance, human resources, revenue collection and mail operation. However, phone service is not specifically listed.

The Toshiba system the VSC wants to purchase would reportedly cost $8,349 with three years of software support along with a $500 to $700 per year maintenance fee.

Commissioner Mike Halleck argued placing all the county offices on the same phone system only makes sense. When someone calls the commissioners’ offices and needs transferred to the VSC, then instead of having the person hang up and dial a 10-digit number, the phone call can just be transferred.

Currently, Jobs and Family Services is switching onto the county phone system.

Weigle claimed the Cisco System the county is using can do the things the VSC wants, but Wain said when he looked at it there were features the VSC needs he just did not see.

“This isn’t about us wanting to be different,” Wain said. “It’s about us wanting to do our job.”

One of the VSC members, Roger Bacon, said for him one of the biggest concerns is the security of medical records, social security numbers and date of birth.

“Veterans trust veterans to protect veterans,” Bacon argued, adding, “You are taking that responsibility away from us and giving it to the county.”

Commissioner Jim Hoppel said the county would not do anything to jeopardize private information, while the other two commissioners talked about the firewall the county has in place to protect other county information.

Members of the VSC questioned whether they actually should be considered a county office and another VSC member, David A. Oesch, stated they are not currently on the county’s phone system and further asked if the county’s information technology guy is even certified.

“You’re in a county building and I’m sure your paycheck is signed by the county,” Halleck said, questioning why they were at the meeting of the county commissioners if the VSC were not a county office.

“The money flows through you,” Wain responded. “The unfortunate thing is you hold the purse strings.”

Ben Black, the chief deputy systems administrator at the clerk of courts office, answered some questions about the firewall which currently protects the network in the courthouse and the records on there. Black said he believe it possible for the phone system to hook up the computer answering service Jabra, which the VSC wants to utilize.

“We have a fairly seamless system,” Wain said. “I don’t want to jeopardize that.”

Wain said there are problems in other VSCs across the state being unable to interface with the federal Veterans Administration. One member offered he has heard of this problem in Huron County as one example of this.

Charles Smith, another member of the VSC, pointed out they pay the county $5,000 to rent their space in a county building. Referencing other disputes the VSC has had with the county commissioners over money in the past, Smith added, “We don’t want to run this through another lawsuit.”

Halleck challenged the VSC allowing all the members present to speak instead of sticking with their two spokesmen prompting another reply from Smith.

“I understand my First Amendment Rights,” Smith said.

“And I understand protocol,” Halleck returned.

Weigle said the commissioners would take the VSC’s request under advisement and get back to them on the issue soon.