MONTICELLO — The idea of transferring authority of Piatt County dispatchers from the sheriff’s office to the Emergency Telephone System Board has apparently met a quick death.
Mentioned as a possibility at a previous ETSB meeting, even board members agreed it was not a good idea after learning last week it was a complicated endeavor that would require intergovernmental agreements with all emergency agencies.
There is also the potential of added cost due to current deputies being able to perform some duties that would no longer be possible if under the ETSB’s jurisdiction.
“The information they (dispatchers) have is because they are part of a law enforcement agency. They would not have access to LEADS (Law Enforcement Agencies Data System), whether anyone has some claims for being armed and dangerous, or prior criminal history,” Piatt County State’s Attorney Sarah Perry said at a special meeting of the ETSB June 2.
“All of those things that are obviously important would not be available to them. Essentially, if you were to do this, the sheriff’s office would still have to have its own dispatchers.”
Sheriff David Hunt said his main beef was he was not aware of the discussion until an email was passed along to him a week before the meeting.
“I think the rub is, I’m an elected official, elected by the people of the county, in charge of 30 to 40 employees. Employees that you, in an email you sent to Ray (Spencer) and Sarah (Perry) was that we were going to meet with the state’s attorney to draw up papers to take over the dispatchers. That’s the rub,” Hunt said at the Wednesday morning session.
“I don’t think any of you here would be very impressed if someone was doing that to you.”
Among the employees Hunt is currently in charge of are eight full-time dispatchers.
Monticello Police Chief and ETSB member John Carter said the intention was to gather information, not make any decision at the special meeting.
Piatt County Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Apperson told the board he was not aware of any complaints regarding emergency dispatching in the county.
“It seems like when things like this are done, people are unhappy for some reason over the way a current system is operating. Has anybody on this committee been approached that they are unhappy with the way dispatch operates at this point?” Apperson said. “I haven’t heard any issues brought up.”
County 9-1-1 Coordinator Tim Furman did not indicate there had been complaints, and said the idea of switching authority to his agency would be to give more buy-in to the agencies that use it.
“The thought was, since ETSB is made up of all these different (emergency) departments that they need dispatch for, the thought was if (dispatchers) were under the ETSB, each one (agency) would get their say,” Furman said.
“Because there is fire, EMS, law on the ETSB, they would have more of a say.”
Attorney Rick Stewart, the legal counsel to the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, said a switch would be a lot of work for the county.
“It’s not easy. It’s not as simple as a stroke of the pen,” Stewart said.
“There’s jurisdictional issues. There are employment law issues. There would be union issues that go along with it. So it’s not just something simple, and that’s the point I wanted to make clear to everybody.”
He also said there are cost issues, since some tasks performed by dispatchers would not be available if dispatchers are paid through 9-1-1 funds.
Stewart said there are counties where dispatchers are under the authority of an ETSB, but that some are switching them to the jurisdiction of their county sheriff to save costs.
Ray Spencer, the county board representative on the ETSB, said he was “a little taken aback” that the sheriff was not brought into the discussion.
“I found out that you hadn’t talked to the sheriff, that he knew nothing about this. I guess I was just a bit surprised by that. You’re in the same building, and you see each other every day,” Spencer said.
“That was not intentional,” Furman said. “That was my fault.”
Emily Sawlaw, a 20-year worker at the local dispatch department, said she was happy with the way the department is currently run, and surprised a change was being considered.
“We would like a little more communication, because none of us was asked about this, and we are the people who are affected by this. So you’d think someone would ask, ‘Hey, what do you think? Would you like to come work for the ETSB?” Sawlaw said.
ETSB member Crystal Alexander noted that all of the ETSB meetings are open to the public, and that “we’d love to have you.”
She added, “We want to do what makes your job easier.”
Board member Doug Winder agreed.
“The goal is to make your job as easy as possible. If there is something that does the opposite, we don’t want that.”
Bement police officer David Lansford, a member of the ETSB, said the information brought to light helped him decide a switch was not a good idea at this time.
“In my opinion, it doesn’t seem feasible to go to the ETSB,” Lansford said.
Carter added, “I don’t think this should go further.”
Furman said after the meeting that the issue would not be pursued at this point.
The ETSB, made up of police, fire, ambulance and other emergency agencies, is required under the Illinois Emergency Telephone System Act. Its purpose is to use funds collected through telephone bills to coordinate a county’s 9-1-1 emergency calling system.
ETSB chair resigns
It was revealed later in the week that Price, a Bement Fire representative and current chairman of the ETSB, had resigned from the board. His term runs through the end of this calendar year.
Price had served as ETSB chair since July of 2019.