Metro-East News

Madison County fires 911 department director as consolidation efforts continue

Madison County emergency phone system board members ousted the department's director Monday as the county continues its efforts to comply with an Illinois law requiring 911 call center consolidation.

Members of the Emergency Telephone System Board of Directors voted to fire Terence McFarland at a special meeting following his months-long medical leave, according to Interim Director Dana Burris. Burris has served as interim director since McFarland began his leave in July.

McFarland's salary was $79,774 in 2017 and Burris' was $62,763, according to the Belleville News-Democrat's public pay database.

McFarland's ousting didn't have anything to do with his performance, Burris said. Rather, he simply ran out of medical leave time, she said.

McFarland could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The director's absence "didn't help" with the county's delay in complying with a 2015 state law that requires counties to cut their number of 911 call centers in half, Burris said, but added that she "wouldn’t blame that on him."

"It’s just a process. It doesn’t happen overnight," Burris said.

Swansea Police Chief Steve Johnson discussed in this 2017 interview the village's decision to have Belleville handle its 911 calls after Illinois mandated the consolidation of public safety answering points.

Illinois lawmakers passed legislation in the summer of 2015 requiring counties to submit a call center consolidation plan by July 2017. The Madison County 911 department formulated their plan but missed the submission deadline and has yet to consolidate the county's 16 centers into eight.

After the state approved a waiver giving the county more time, the plan is finally in the hands of the state for approval, Burris said.

The delay was caused by a reluctance from some communities to give up their dispatch centers, according to Robert Rizzi, chairman of the Emergency Telephone System Board.

"The individual dispatch centers in their individual police departments do more than 911 calls," Rizzi said. "Some of the dispatch centers not only dispatch for police but also for fire, EMS, public works, dog catchers, other things, and a lot take walk-in complaints. It's more than just a 911 answering point."

While all 911 calls would be routed through consolidated centers under the new plan, some communities will keep the extra dispatch services they offer to residents, Rizzi said. Individual municipalities would pay for those extra services.

The consolidation law also created a state fee on mobile phones that goes toward funding 911 call centers.

Emergency dispatchers in most cases can get an idea of where a 911 call is coming from. But the precision of pinning down that location depends on how the call is made.

Under the plan, the following centers will remain open:

  • Alton Police Department
  • Collinsville Police Department (will absorb Highland Police Department center)
  • Edwardsville Police Department (will absorb Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Police Department call center)
  • Glen Carbon Police Department
  • Granite City Police Department
  • Madison County Sheriff (will absorb Troy Police Department center)
  • Pontoon Beach Police Department (will absorb Venice and Madison police department centers)
  • Wood River Police Department (will absorb East Alton and Bethalto police department call centers)

The Wood River Training Facility will also close as a call center, though it will still serve as a space for training, according to the plan.

This map shows the boundaries for 911 call center boundaries. Madison County

It's unclear if or when the state will approve the county's plan, the interim director said. The plan must go before an administrative law judge, but a hearing date has not been set yet, Burris said.

Meanwhile, Rizzi said he has confidence in Burris' ability to continue to serve as interim director until the board decides on how to move forward on choosing a permanent director.

"I can't speak for the board because we haven't discussed it, but I don’t believe we’ll rush this decision," Rizzi said. "We're pretty comfortable where we’re at with Dana and her position."

St. Clair County completed its consolidation plan in time for the July 2017 deadline and has since implemented the plan.