RICH JAMES: Lake County's E-911 fiasco prompts call for leadership

2013-06-12T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Lake County's E-911 fiasco prompts call for leadershipBy Rich James nwitimes.com
June 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

When the Indiana General Assembly a few years ago said all counties had to consolidate emergency police and fire communications systems into a single unit, it didn’t say maybe.

There would be no ifs, ands or buts. Do it by the end of 2014 or face losing millions of state dollars was the message.

Unfortunately for the people of Lake County, many of the 17 municipal and county police and fire organizations either didn’t care about the mandate or thought it would go away.

The emergency responders and elected officials have taken procrastination to a new level.

The reasons for refusing to embrace reality were many. Some flat-out said they didn’t want to change. Others said response time would be slower. Some said it would be more expensive. Others said they wanted the central dispatch office in their backyards. And yet others didn’t want to lose patronage.

County government has just done what it should have two years ago: hire an expert in the business of consolidating emergency response organizations.

While Brian Hitchcock is good at what he does, he’s not a miracle worker. He said it is too late to go out for bids on millions of dollars of communications equipment and meet the 2014 deadline.

That likely means the county will pay many millions more than necessary for a centralized system.

Why, you ask? It is a simply question that comes with a fairly simply answer.

It’s a lack of leadership. It is a tired, ongoing problem in Lake County.

Sheriff John Buncich tried for months to bring police and fire departments together. He found out that was like corralling cats.

When he would get a police department in line, chances were that the town or city council balked.

And as time ticked, few wanted to face reality.

County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, deserves credit for what he said a week ago.

“There hasn’t been a real leader at the helm for months. ... The General Assembly has refused to extend the deadline. County government elected to procrastinate,” Allen said.

Leadership can be such an empty word in Lake County. The sad thing is that it doesn’t have to be.

Watching the E-911 fiasco ought to get folks thinking about opting for a single county administrator rather than three county commissioners.

And what about county Democratic Chairman Thomas McDermott Jr. and Republican Chairman Dan Dernulc taking off the gloves for the common good?

E-911 is about lives, not Democrats or Republicans.

The county will have a chance to work on this leadership thing in the coming months.

If the county doesn’t pave the way, Hitchcock won’t have a fighting chance of pulling this off.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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