ANGOLA, Ind. (WANE) – A dispute over who should control a 911 call center brought more than 100 people to a Steuben County Commissioners meeting Monday morning. Commissioners did not allow members of the crowd to voice their opinions at the public meeting and said they will be reviewing the controversial topic.
County commissioners currently control the 911 center. But Sheriff Tim Troyer thinks his department should take over because of a staffing and management crisis that’s become a danger to public safety.
Commissioners strongly disagree and think the communications center is running effectively.
It was standing room only in the county commissioner meeting Monday morning with dozens of people spilling into the hallway. The response comes after Sheriff Troyer called out the commissioners in an email, encouraging the public to come to the meeting.
“If you agree with my belief that our Dispatchers should be led and managed by the Sheriff, please let your voice be heard,” Troyer wrote.
Bonnie Fries, a real estate broker in Steuben County, was one of the faces packed in the meeting. Fries would like to see the dispatch center under Troyer’s jurisdiction. She and others were disappointed commissioners didn’t allow public comment.
“We’re the stockholders. Everybody in this building has skin in this game. And the commissioners aren’t listening to us,” Fries said. “The performance of the dispatchers, they’re trying their best. They are good people. However, we have an issue if they’re working 16-hour shifts. I really trust our sheriff. He is not impulsive.”
Sheriff Troyer, the 911 dispatch director (soon to be resigned), and commissioners were the only ones who were permitted to speak at the public hearing.
“I wanted them to understand that we were concerned about their concerns, but also that we needed to keep a very structured-type program this morning,” said County Commissioner Ron Smith. “Otherwise, it would have become redundant and out of control.”
Both Smith and Troyer understandably had different thoughts on no action taken by commissioners Monday morning.
“I guess my hope was that they would take some sort of action and move forward with it,” Troyer said. “In emergency services, especially law enforcement, we don’t have time to deliberate everything. We have to make quick decisions based on the information we have in front of us and this should be a quick decision.”
Smith on the other hand thinks before considering the transition, commissioners need to first fill the soon-to-be vacated dispatch director position.
“We don’t have a person who is a candidate to replace the present director. Would you not think it was appropriate to advertise, get somebody who was interested in that job,” Smith said. “We have to have a resignation tendered by the present director before we can hire a new one. That’s why there was no action taken. It would have been totally inappropriate.”
People like Ashley Town Marshal Scott Barnhart don’t care who’s in charge. They simply want 911 communications to do a better job keeping the public safe.
“It seems to be improving, but the total trust in the system isn’t there yet,” said Barnhart. “With police, fire, EMS, I think any of them would say the same thing.”
There’s currently no timetable as to if and when commissioners will hand over 911 jurisdictions to the Steuben County Sheriff’s Department. Steuben County Attorney Don Stuckey said since the budget has already been set, the transition might not be possible until next year.