Three members of the Piatt County Emergency Telephone Systems Board – with a total of 52 years experience on the ETSB – have been dismissed by County Board Chairman Ray Spencer.
Alleged missteps in the hiring process for a new 9-1-1 director eventually led to the action, according to Piatt County State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades, who was notified of the allegations on May 25, six days before the most recent ETSB meeting.
Dismissed from the committee were Ron Weishaar, a founding member of the board 25 years ago, Gary Shaffer, a 20-year member, and ETSB Chairman Todd Jones.
The reports accused the ETSB of not interviewing all potentially qualified applicants, that the county board had not been in charge of the job description and that one applicant was asked their age.
“I don’t think there was ill intent,” said Rhoades, “but given the circumstances and number of irregularities, our primary concern was protecting the county from a lawsuit.”
She that, while she did not recommend that Spencer dismiss any ETSB members, she did confirm it was within his authority to do so.
Shafer, a 20-year member of the ETSB, was confused by the firing, which he received via email from the county board chair the evening of June 4.
Shaffer said he had planned to retire from the board when his seventh, three-year term ended in January.
“I was going to take my 20-year plaque and go home. Now I’ve been robbed of it, and I don’t understand why,” said Shaffer, who had been serving as secretary on the board.
As an agency formed by the county board in 1994, Rhoades said the ETSB is bound by the Equal Opportunity Employment Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the hiring rules set forth in Piatt County ordinances.
In a June 3 memo to county board and ETSB board members, she also warned that the job description for a new 9-1-1 director is under the purview of the county board, and not the outgoing 9-1-1 director.
Jones denied the allegations, and claims only the full county board can dismiss ETSB board members, citing the Illinois Emergency Telephone System Act, which also states they can be removed for “misconduct, official misconduct, or neglect of office.”
But Assistant States Attorney Elizabeth Dobson feels “if it goes beyond that, and what if the violations we see are so serious that it needs to be stopped right now?” then the county board chair can step in without county board approval.
Rhoades’ opinion is that the hiring process needs to be re-done, despite the fact current 9-1-1 director James Cripe is retiring June 28.
Weishaar, a 25-year founding member of the Piatt County ETSB, said there were only two candidates who had the qualifications to be considered for the 9-1-1 director post, and that “our prime, excellent candidate will now not come close to Piatt County.”
Also a former fire chief, Weishaar said he would have little problem if the decision to dismiss him came from the entire county board.
“If the county board chose to let us go, it wouldn’t bother me as much. But to let us go at his whim, it’s nuts.”
He also wonders if the ETSB’s disagreement with Spencer over a possible combining of the 9-1-1 and Emergency Management Agency director positions led to his dismissal. Spencer said at an ETSB meeting last week that discussion of that option will on the Piatt County board’s June 12 agenda.
State’s attorney’s officials said ignoring their advice to wait until the end of May to resume the hiring process did not help the ETSB’s cause. Dobson said they asked for a delay while staff looked into appropriate state statutes.
“That’s why we asked them to wait and look into this, but they decided to do an interview anyway,” Dobson said, noting an applicant was interviewed at the May 30 ETSB session.
Spencer could propose new ETSB board members as early as the June 12 county board meeting. County board approval would be required for them to be officially seated.