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Official mum on 911 dispute

Agencies reach agreement, then battle continues

DIXON – A Lee County official involved in the dispute between the Sheriff’s Department and the local 911 agency is staying silent for now, saying he wants to avoid disturbing negotiations.

County Board member Greg Witzleb, R-Dixon, gave a brief report on the 911 agency – known formally as the Emergency Telephone System Board – at the County Board’s monthly meeting Tuesday.

“There has been quite a bit of discussion and controversy,” said Witzleb, who is the County Board’s liaison to the 911 agency, which handles dispatch services for the Dixon Police and Sheriff’s departments. “A lot of it is dealing with the existing contract.”

Those issues, he said, would be addressed by the parties to the contract – the 911 agency, the sheriff and the County Board.

“That will be my only comment until those parties meet and sit down at the table and resolve problems,” Witzleb said.

County Board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said he hoped the parties can get together as soon as next week.

“I’m sure we can work through it without any major problems,” he told the County Board.

Sheriff John Varga and the 911 agency’s director, Shelley Dallas, have been locked in a dispute about the hiring process for dispatchers. The sheriff has the power to hire and fire dispatchers. But Dallas contends Varga should follow the part of the contract that allows her agency to establish policies and criteria for testing and training of dispatchers, with the sheriff’s consent.

Varga has been getting candidates for dispatchers from a list of names of those who have expressed interest in deputy and jailer positions, which he maintains is a practice that predates his reign. But Dallas and 911 board members argue that dispatcher positions require different skills.

On May 20, Dallas and Varga met about the hiring process. Two days later, they signed a memorandum of understanding. They agreed the sheriff would advertise for dispatchers, along with deputies and jailers, in the fall and develop hiring lists for the positions.

They also decided to have testing particular to dispatchers.

At a 911 board meeting a day later, Dallas and others criticized the sheriff for not keeping open the lines of communication. Varga, who sent an employee as his designate, stayed away, saying he wanted to avoid a “screaming match.”

His fear proved correct; it was a hot meeting. At one point, Witzleb, who defended Varga, told Dallas that one of her messages to a dispatcher, with a copy sent to the sheriff, was “BS,” according to the meeting minutes.

Witzleb said if Dallas has a problem with Varga, she should call him. She said she did.

The 911 board’s chairman, Brad Sibley, a Dixon police lieutenant, said he had reached out to Witzleb to help with the situation and that the County Board member didn’t get back with him.

Witzleb responded that he didn’t call back because he read the contract and found violations on both sides of it. Asked how the 911 board violated it, Witzleb didn’t answer, according to the minutes, which are drafted by Dallas.

Dallas, who is out of the office this week, couldn’t be reached for comment.

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