OL’s 911 dispatch dispute still has political overtones

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Oak Lawn’s 911 dispatch center continues to be the source of political controversy several months after the village board decided to outsource the service.
Trustees Robert Streit and Carol Quinlan last week called for an “independent, fact-finding survey” designed to evaluate the service, a suggestion that failed to receive support from other trustees.
Meanwhile, at least one trustee accused Streit of using the dispatch center as a campaign issue, while a former trustee accused Streit and Quinlan of lying when they said they were unaware of a litany of serious problems that existed with the previous team of emergency dispatchers.
Streit put the issue back in the spotlight at the Aug. 12 village board meeting saying he’s received several complaints from residents about the service since it’s been outsourced to a private company.
“There have been many questions raised about the quality of service our residents receive,” Streit said. “I hear from so many people. I hope you all do.”
Streit conceded that he likely hears more complaints than other trustees because he vocally opposed outsourcing the 911 dispatch service, a move the board approved in November on the recommendation of Village Manager Larry Deetjen. Quinlan also voted against the proposal.
The village entered into a contract with Elmhurst-based Norcomm Public Safety Communications several days after the vote was taken.
Streit had hoped to question Norcomm vice president Michael Tillman about the complaints he’s received. Tillman attended the Aug. 12 board meeting to present the village a certificate thanking Oak Lawn for continued commitment in an effort to achieve excellence in the delivery of 911 services.
But Tillman left the meeting immediately after presenting the certificate, leading Streit to allege that Tillman’s appearance was scripted.
“I was a little disappointed how quickly you whisked out the representative from Norcomm,” Streit told Mayor Sandra Bury.

But Tillman’s absence did not prevent Streit from outlining his concerns.
He said public safety is the most important issue facing the board.
“Are we jeopardizing the safety of our residents?” he asked.
He said an independent survey should focus specifically on response times and telecommunicators’ knowledge of the area. He said the survey results would lead to an “honest discussion” about the issue.
He also asked what liability the village would face if “a tragedy resulted from a dispatch error.”
Additionally, Streit said, he’s heard reports that 911 dispatchers have failed to show up for their shifts, causing colleagues to cover multiple towns. And, he said, dispatchers have been required to work multiple, 16-hour shifts, including one dispatcher who worked six such shifts in a row and then was told a planned vacation was cancelled.
“Is the board comfortable with that because I’m not,” Streit said.
Trustee Tim Desmond responded to Streit’s remarks, asking if he has a performance report for the dispatch center before outsourcing took place.
Streit said he had no such report.
Desmond then read a list of problems experienced at the dispatch center prior to Norcomm taking over, including playing video games while on duty, excessive absenteeism, rude interactions with callers, incorrect addresses given to first responders and delays in dispatching responders.
Former trustee Tom Phelan, in an email sent to the media, said both Streit and Quinlan were well aware of problems associated with the dispatch center. In fact, he said, Quinlan proposed a comprehensive review of the center in 2008 specifically in the areas of overtime costs and employee performance and turnover, he said.
“For these two trustees to claim they knew nothing about those problems is almost beyond belief,” Phelan said.
Quinlan, reiterated on Tuesday that she never received a call or concern about the 911 dispatch center prior to the switch to Norcomm. She said she did for a call for a review of the costs associated with the 911 center, not employee conduct.
Desmond also chided Streit for failing to act on the complaints he brought to the board’s attention.
“Where are the complaints? Why isn’t he passing them on to the people responsible for public safety?” Desmond said. “I think he’s trying to create a campaign issue.”
Quinlan added that there’s nothing wrong with conducting a study to determine if the village made the right decision.
“I don’t think we should mess around with public safety,” Quinlan said.
Trustee Mike Carberry said other municipalities served by the dispatch center are a good indicator or Norcomm’s service.
“They’re certainly not going to put their residents in jeopardy,” he said.