- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The director of the District’s troubled 911 communications center has a history of poor relations with employees in previous public safety jobs and he was fired for the same reason from a position once held in Florida.

E. Michael Latessa, director of the city’s Office of Unified Communications, was fired as director of Emergency Medical Services in Lee County, Fla. in 1987 because of what his supervisor said was poor relations with employees and other public safety agencies.

“I have no use for the man,” Mr. Latessa’s former boss, Terry Dillon, told the Tampa Tribune in a 1993 interview. “I met with employees about a week after I fired him to tell them my reasons. They gave me a standing ovation and lined up outside as I went to my car to shake my hand.”

Edward D. Reiskin, D.C. deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said he didn’t know if Mr. Latessa’s past working relationships with employees had been explored during the vetting process. “I only saw that fairly recently,” he said. “I’m sure that had [it] been known, it would have been factored into the decision. Whether it would have changed anything, I don’t know.”

The Washington Times reported Monday that the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is investigating a recent rash of calls during which call takers at the 911 communications center provided bad information to fire and rescue workers. Call takers and dispatchers blame Mr. Latessa for the center’s morale problems and deteriorating employee performance.

Mr. Reiskin said he thinks Mr. Latessa is doing the right thing by holding employees accountable and enforcing rules. But, he also said he could see where there might be trouble within the agency.

“I do think that Mike Latessa’s style and the way he sees his charge may be rubbing some people the wrong way,” he said.

The Lee County job was not the only past job in which Mr. Latessa drew the ire of employees.

Mr. Latessa, 50, was hired as deputy director of the Public Safety Department in Manatee County, Fla., in October 1987 and was quickly promoted to director, a job he held for 10 years.

In 1992, 70 percent of the county’s ambulance workers signed a petition urging the county commission to remove Mr. Latessa, saying he was autocratic and vindictive. The employees unionized that year.

Mr. Latessa also served as chief of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in St. Louis from 1982 to 1985. In 1984, 91 of that division’s 110 employees signed a petition asking for Mr. Latessa’s removal.

Mr. Latessa acknowledged the friction but also pointed to his successes.

In 1987, the Lee County EMS Department, under his leadership, was recognized by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians as the EMT-Paramedic Service of the Year.

In the early 1990s, the Manatee County Emergency Medical Services, which is part of the county’s Public Safety Department, was named “Provider of the Year” by the Florida health officials.

“Virtually in every case, I was brought in as a change agent,” Mr. Latessa said. “When you change organizations, when you change the way they operate, there is pushback. When you try to achieve success, you’re going to encounter resistance.”

Mr. Latessa, who was hired by the District in January 2004, remains “interim” director of the Office of Unified Communications.

“Because it’s a new agency and because he is relatively new, we thought it prudent to put him in an interim status,” Mr. Reiskin said.

Mr. Reiskin said technically Mr. Latessa might not have to face D.C. Council confirmation because he was working for the District before the agency was officially created in October. However, he said the mayor would submit Mr. Latessa’s name for approval because of the importance of the agency. He said there is no time line for presenting Mr. Latessa for confirmation.

“I really haven’t thought about it much,” Mr. Reiskin said. “I have been trying to filter through and see which of these complaints has merit.”

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