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Stockton Dispatch Dispute Talks Dissolve; Opts for Trial

STOCKTON, Calif. -- Talks between city and San Joaquin County officials have broken down and it appears a contentious lawsuit over who dispatches first responders to emergencies will go to trial in spring.

The two sides agreed in April to have an independent mediator help the agencies reach an out-of-court settlement. The talks went on for months, but ended last week.

City Council decided to discontinue settlement discussion with the county at this time, said City Attorney Ren Nosky.

Nosky and other city officials said they would not comment on the reasons behind a decision made Tuesday in closed session.

County Counsel David Wooten said Stockton decided it would rather go to trial just as the two sides were on the brink of reaching an agreement that would have settled the lawsuit and other conflicts surrounding emergency dispatch in the county. Such a global resolution also would have ended another long-standing lawsuit, this one between the city of Stockton and American Medical Response, Wooten said.

AMR also is the company San Joaquin County selected to provide exclusive ambulance services for most of San Joaquin County. County officials meant for AMR to dispatch all nonpolice emergencies in the county beginning in May 2006. But Stockton, Manteca and Lodi continued to use Stockton Fire Department s dispatch center. The county sued; the cities sued back.

It would have resolved all of the disputes, Wooten said.

Both sides in the county-city conflict say the law -- as well as the safety of county residents in emergency situations -- supports their respective cases.

The county has the right to govern dispatch and emergency services, said Victor Mow, chairman of the San Joaquin Board of Supervisors.

I would like to see this thing settled, he said. Although we may end up in court.

The Stockton Fire Department has a proven track-record when it comes to running an emergency dispatch center, said Charles Reese, an attorney representing Stockton.

I think the important thing is public safety be protected, he said.

Stockton Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Carl Eck said the city-county fight over 911 dispatching was not affecting his agency s ability to handle emergencies.

The system is functioning, he said. We re getting the resources to the people in the same amount of time.

AMR, which operates and dispatches ambulances for most of the county and handles other emergency dispatching for areas not covered by Stockton Fire Department, said the continuing lawsuit between the county and cities won t affect his company s operations, either.

We re still the contracted provider; we re still going to provide service, Sorrick said. This is not our dispute.

Contact reporter Zachary K. Johnson at (209) 546-8258 or zjohnson@recordnet.com

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