By Celeste Katz Marston
Concord’s Select Board is pulling the plug on a languishing plan for a regional 911 dispatch center.
In May 2021, the governments of Concord and neighboring Acton agreed to join forces and create the Acton-Concord Regional Emergency Communications Center, or A-C RECC.
But amid what Concord officials describe as a lack of progress, increasing acrimony and faltering communications with Acton, the Board voted unanimously Monday that the A-C RECC is “no longer in the best interest of the town,” and to authorize Town Manager Kerry Lafleur to “take all necessary actions” to terminate the deal.
Board Member Terri Ackerman, who has been speaking with Acton counterparts to keep the project on track, said Acton officials seemed confused about Concord’s concerns about the setup — including a push to locate the “regional” center right next to Acton’s police department.
“They especially didn’t understand our concern about a neutral location,” she said.
Concord had asked for six months to re-evaluate the plan, including potentially finding a more neutral site and inviting other communities to join. But Acton officials want to move ahead in just three months — and are also skeptical about finding a better site.
“The relationship between the two communities, in this area, especially, is not too good — or improving. The communication is just not there.” Ackerman said. Even adding other towns to the regional dispatch system in addition to finding a new site might not fix the problem, Ackerman said.
“If you have poor communication and lack of confidence in each other at this courtship phase,” she said, “I’m really not sure if we should continue.”
Since Concord and Acton struck the deal, there’s been significant turnover in local government — town managers, police chiefs, and Select Board members who were in office at the time have since departed.
Town Manager Kerry Lafleur said that while she understands this is a complex project, perhaps Acton doesn’t get Concord’s argument for a more neutral location — although, she said bluntly, “the concept is not difficult to understand.” Of the other regional dispatch operations in Massachusetts, she added, none are “attached to a public safety facility of a member community.”
Lafleur also said remarks by Acton officials — including a Select Board member’s references to not wanting Acton to be “held hostage” by Concord on the RECC project — don’t “sound like somebody we want to partner with for a critical public safety service, and that is the concern… We’ve been at this for a very long time. We’ve made very little progress.”
The town manager also took specific exception to remarks from Acton officials who blamed Concord for the loss of two potential RECC executive directors: “That’s not true,” Lafleur said. “One of them accepted another position and the second candidate was not acceptable.”
Regarding funding, Lafleur said everything Concord has spent on the project so far came from a state grant, and she considered it “highly unlikely” that either Concord or Acton would be expected to pay back grant funds spent when “both were moving forward in good faith to conduct a feasibility study [for] the purposes for which the grant funding was provided.”
She also said the regional agreement requires any member that wants to bow out has to provide three years’ notice. “That is really geared toward when the district is stood up and it’s functioning, so we’re not really sure at this point in time what, if any, liability there would be to the town,” Lafleur said. “I would expect that any liability to the town would be very small.”
Concord Police Chief Thomas Mulcahy and Fire Chief Thomas Judge, both present at Monday’s meeting, said they accepted the move.
“I am on board with us making this decision. I don’t think six months [is] unreasonable,” Mulcahy told the Board. He left the door open to joining a cooperative 911 organization going ahead: “I don’t think that it’s something we couldn’t look at down the road, [or] look at other surrounding communities.”
Judge agreed with Mulcahy both that a six-month consideration period was reasonable and that Concord could consider teaming up with other municipalities in the future.
“I’ve made no secret about it that I’m a proponent of the RECC. There are safety features, I believe, in having all those staff together,” he said. “But I also understand that [if] the partnership isn’t right, then it’s probably doomed to failure — or just not being as effective as we would like it to be.”
Acton’s town manager did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Concord’s vote.