Two trustees want study of Oak Lawn 911 center
By Steve Metsch email@example.com August 15, 2014 11:04PM
Oak Lawn emergency call dispatchers lobby for support before a December village board meeting at which their jobs were outsourced to a private company. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 17, 2014 2:11AM
Oak Lawn trustees Bob Streit, 3rd, and Carol Quinlan, 5th, want an independent study of the performance of emergency dispatchers since their jobs were privatized in January, but Mayor Sandra Bury has rejected the idea.
The two trustees said they have heard numerous complaints from residents regarding the work of the dispatchers since Oak Lawn contracted with Norcomm to run its 911 emergency call center.
Streit and Quinlan made their request at Tuesday’s village board committee meeting, leading to a heated discussion between Streit and Trustee Tim Desmond, 1st, on how the dispatchers handled their jobs both before and after privatization.
The issue of how well the dispatchers were performing arose after Norcomm vice president Michael Tillman presented a certificate to the village at the meeting, thanking Oak Lawn for “continued commitment ... to achieve excellence and success in the delivery of 911 emergency dispatch services.” Since the two-year contract began Jan. 22, Norcomm and the village “have successfully dispatched more than 100,000 calls for service,” Tillman said.
Streit then tried to question Tillman but was quickly silenced by Bury, who thanked Tillman for coming and adding, “I’m sure he’s able to be called.” That irked Streit, who told Bury he was a “little disappointed at how quickly you whisked out the representative from Norcomm.
“It was obviously well-staged, that he’d present a plaque and then run out the door before he would take questions,” Streit said. “I think public safety is the most important issue we have to address as board members. Since the outsourcing of the 911 center, there have been many questions raised about the quality of service our residents have received.”
Quinlan agreed, saying that in her seven previous years on the board, she had never received complaints about the emergency call center but is hearing them now. That drew a smattering of applause from the audience at the meeting.
“I think it’s perfectly OK to make sure our decision (to privatize) was the right one or we need to make improvements,” Quinlan said. “That’s not to say the way we did it (under village control) was perfect or great, but we don’t know how it compares with what we are doing now. We shouldn’t mess around with public safety.”
Streit said there have been times when personnel failed to arrive for work, when a dispatcher had to work six straight 16-hour days and then was denied a planned vacation.
“That telecommunicator quit. Is the board comfortable with that because I’m not,” he said.
Moments later, Desmond outlined a laundry list of complaints that he obtained from village records regarding dispatchers, dating to before Norcomm took over the 911 center.
“I was shocked by some of the violations,” Desmond said, listing issues such as delay of ambulances, taking excessive sick days, inattention to duty, neglecting to dispatch police, being rude to callers and playing video games at work, to name a few.
After the meeting, Bury was unconvinced of the need for a study of the dispatch performance.
“You have someone whipping the public up, and the (911 center) data does not bear that out. The former dispatchers were human, the current dispatchers are human,” Bury said.
Under Oak Lawn’s contract with Norcomm to provide 911 staffing at the call center, the two-year agreement can be extended three years if both parties agree. The agreement resulted in 20 dispatchers having to reapply for their jobs. Norcomm is to provide 23 full-time dispatchers at the 911 center.
Under the agreement, Oak Lawn pays Norcomm $1.99 million for the first year of service. That increases to $2 million, $2.1 million, $2.2 million and $2.3 million from years two through five of the contract.
Oak Lawn’s center also serves the Burbank, Evergreen Park, Bridgeview, Bedford Park and Central Stickney towns or fire protection districts.