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911 panel debates expanding membership beyond law enforcement

ST. JOHN — A push to see membership on the E-911 committee expanded beyond law enforcement to include elected officials drew sharp criticism from Lake County Sheriff John Buncich.

The discussion was started by Lake County Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, who is the council’s representative on the Lake County Public Safety Communications Commission.

At Thursday’s commission meeting, Strong noted that some officials from other cities and towns have been asking whether the E-911 commission could be opened up to include elected officials.

“This is one of the things I’ve been supportive of all along,” Strong said.

Buncich said the panel should be made up of the experts who know about emergency communications and the needs of police and fire responders, not politicians ­— some of whom, he said, may not even know what a fire truck looks like.

“What Councilman Strong is suggesting would put this commission into a political nightmare,” Strong said.

St. John Police Chief Fred Frego agreed.

“You’re just creating another layer,” Frego said.

Nicole Bennett, attorney for the E-911 commission, said by state statute, 51 percent of the panel — 12 members — must be from law enforcement. County officials could change the ordinance regarding the other 49 percent to include elected officials and fire chiefs if they so choose. If the change were made, the positions open to elected officials would have to be rotated among the communities.

Currently, the E-911 commission is a 22-member panel made up of members of law enforcement, emergency management, the Lake County Council and Commission and the sheriff. One position, held by the county’s director of homeland security, is a nonvoting position.

Each of the 17 towns and cities appoint their representative to the board for a two-year term. The appointments are made by either the mayor or by the town council president.

Strong said after discussing problems with the interlocal agreement with some of the communities, he thinks the change in the ordinance to incorporate elected officials as board members would be a good idea and help ease some concerns.

“It’s not our intent to circumvent this committee,” Strong said. “Just to open it up.”



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