County administrator could take over 911 center from Sheriff Caruana

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- The supervision of the county 911 center could be taken away from Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana.

The Winnebago County Board read in for the first time Thursday night an ordinance that would change the 911 department reporting structure giving the county administrator the supervising power over the county 911 center rather than Sheriff Gary Caruana.

County board members say this change would not affect the operation of the 911 center. The supervisors and directors would still run the center. Finance committee chairman Ted Biondo says this change would ensure money that's given to the sheriff's department is going to the 911 center. Several board members say they want 911 center employees to know the board treats them as a priority and want to provide them the funds they deserve. The sheriff's office says they care just as deeply about the dispatchers.

"It obviously wasn't a priority for him because he laid them off, or at least gave them notices, so he was correcting that tonight saying we didn't lay them off but they started leaving because they were receiving notices and then receded quickly but the damage was done,” said County Board member Ted Biondo.

"The people there feel insecure about their job futures because there's a $4.3 million in cuts against the sheriff's office without prior notice. No one cares about those people; no one cares more about that operation more than the sheriff,” said Chief Deputy Mark Karner of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office.

Rockford mayor Tom McNamara and Loves Park mayor Greg Jury wrote a joint letter to the county board and Sheriff Caruana stating in part “From our perspective, and under the current structure, when properly funded and staffed, the sheriff is the most appropriate elected official to operate the county 911 center and determine its appropriate levels of staffing.”

The finance committee will meet next week to further discuss the possible change. Many leaders want to wait to make a decision on the change until a study comes back to the Emergency Telephone System Board that will help determine the future of consolidation and how the center will proceed.

Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney says in his conversations with Caruana, the sheriff is open for anything. Haney says this is the board's best opportunity to get the 911 center right.