Once again, Delaware County commissioners are left searching for someone to run their 911 operations following the unexpected resignation of the 911 center’s director.
In a brief letter Monday, Delaware County 911 Director Bob Greenlaw informed his supervisors that he would be resigning effective Oct. 7.
In the letter, addressed to Delaware County Commission President Dennis Stapleton and Powell Police Chief Gary Vest, president of the Delaware County 911 Board, Greenlaw does not say why he is quitting, just that he is proud of his time with the county.
“I appreciate having had the excellent opportunity to serve for the last two years as your director and wish you all future successes,” Greenlaw wrote.
Reached by phone Monday evening, Greenlaw declined to comment on his resignation beyond what he said in his letter.
Greenlaw, who made $85,100 a year, leaves with more than 40 years experience in public safety. Commissioners in July 2009 hired Greenlaw, 64, out of retirement in Idaho to run the 911 center, which also maintains communications equipment for all emergency responders in Delaware County.
Officials declined to say if Greenlaw’s departure had anything to do with racial discrimination and sexual harassment allegations made against Greenlaw by three female 911 employees whose longtime jobs were eliminated as part of a cost reduction earlier this summer. The three employees alleged in a federal anti-discrimination complaint filed last month that their jobs were targeted after they complained about racist and sexist comments Greenlaw made while at work on an ongoing basis.
The 911 board, a group of emergency response and government officials that supervises the 911 director, has assigned a subcommittee to investigate the allegations. The committee is scheduled to issue a report on their findings at a 911 board meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. next Tuesday.
Stapleton said Greenlaw’s resignation came as a surprise to him. When asked if it was connected to the discrimination complaint, Stapleton was unclear in his answer, but indicated commissioners had not asked him to step down.
“I think that’s a fair and valid question,” Stapleton said. “But no, I can’t give you an answer. I can say that nothing had risen to the level where we were involved as commissioners.”
Commissioner Ken O’Brien, who is also a member of the 911 board, said commissioners will have to immediately move forward with finding a replacement. That’s sure to be another topic of discussion at 911 board meetings, he said.
“It’s a critical position that we will need to address rather rapidly,” O’Brien said.
People who worked with Greenlaw have previously credited his force of personality and expertise for helping navigate the complex political landscape (commonly called a “turf war”) that came with overseeing the consolidation of Delaware County and Delaware city’s 911 operations.
Greenlaw, outgoing and personable, had overseen two similar consolidations in Idaho and New Jersey, and supervised the heralded opening of the newly-combined Delaware County 911 center in March 2010.
Efforts to combine the two government operations spanned more than two decades and stalled more than once; at its worst point, Delaware city sued Delaware County for 911 levy funds the county withheld after the city missed a consolidation deadline.
“I commend you for making what was impossible possible,” former Delaware County commissioner Todd Hanks told Greenlaw in March 2010 during a public meeting celebrating the new consolidated county/city 911 center.
“For the most part, I would say that Bob has done a wonderful job of transitioning and consolidating the 911 department,” O’Brien said Monday.
Officials viewed Greenlaw’s hiring as a victory particularly since the 911 center’s first director, former assistant Sandusky police chief Gary Lyons, quit after just a few weeks on the job. Lyons cited a poor working relationship with former Delaware County Administrator Dave Cannon in his resignation letter.
Combining the city and the county’s 911 centers was done to increase efficiency and to standardize operations, officials said. Even if that was so, it proved to be more expensive — the 911 center’s budget increased from $2.6 million in 2008 to $3.7 million today — as the county hired the city dispatchers, gave raises to county dispatchers to meet those of their city counterparts and created new positions to supervise the larger staff.
As part of the consolidation process, the county also took on responsibility for overseeing and maintaining the expensive equipment first responders use to communicate with each other and with emergency dispatchers.
Greenlaw also took an active role in the 911 center in his personal time.
Greenlaw’s wife designed the logo emblazoned on the official uniforms for 911 center employees, and Greenlaw’s truck bore vanity plates that read “DELCOMM,” the center’s new name. During two election campaigns, Greenlaw traveled the county, stumping for property tax levy requests that fund the 911 center.
“I am very proud of the accomplishments we had as a team,” Greenlaw wrote in his resignation letter, citing the completion of the 911 consolidation and the ongoing process to establish a backup 911 center in Orange Township.
Whoever replaces Greenlaw will not have an easy task before them. There is a projected deficit of more than $1 million in the 911 center for 2012. Another looming cost is a $4.5 million radio system upgrade slated for 2014.
The 911 board had recommended asking voters for a tax increase to help finance the center, even after a previous request for a tax hike failed, to help close that deficit.
Instead, commissioners opted to ask for a renewal of the current 0.45-mill levy, which voters approved last May. As a first step to close the gap, commissioners in July eliminated three positions in the 911 center earlier this summer, which they said saved the county $230,000.
The three employees had all worked for Delaware County 911 for about 20 years.
Two of the employees, Elissa Sessley and Sharon Creamer took a significant pay cut to be hired back as entry-level emergency dispatchers, among a class of 10 new hires. The third employee, Kathleen Coy, said she was unable to return to work because of mental health issues resulting from the hostile work environment Greenlaw created.
Under federal anti-discrimination laws, the employees could each be awarded up to $50,000 in damages or get their old jobs back if the legal process finds in favor of their claim. The county also may need to show it is taking steps to avoid discrimination in the future.