WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Keokuk Cancels Hearing; Dispatch Deal Reached?

Jun 23, 2016

It appears a deal has been reached that will ensure 911 calls from Keokuk continue to be answered by Lee County's centralized emergency dispatch center (LeeComm). The proof comes in the fact that the city asked for and received permission to cancel an upcoming court hearing on the matter.

District Court Judge Mark Kruse issued an order Wednesday afternoon granting Keokuk’s request to cancel a June 28 injunction hearing that he had scheduled just a few days earlier.

In its cancelation request, the city stated the threat of the loss of dispatch services was gone per an agreement with the parties involved.

Keokuk filed a lawsuit this month against Lee County, LeeComm, and several others.  In it, Keokuk questioned the legality of the contract to extend LeeComm beyond June 30, 2016 and a countywide property tax to pay for it.

Keokuk is the only member of LeeComm that has not signed the multi-year extension. The city says it won’t sign the document because of concerns about the language of the deal, its duration, and the oversight of the dispatch center.

Keokuk was seeking an injunction to prevent LeeComm from halting dispatch services in the city because it has not signed the extension, and to prevent the county from collecting the new countywide property tax. 

City Attorney Douglas Dorando told Tri States Public Radio, though, that while the injunction was canceled, the lawsuit remains on file.

  It appears the agreement mentioned briefly in court filings resulted from a meeting mediated by Lee County Attorney Mike Short. Short was granted permission by the LeeComm board to meet with representatives of Keokuk, Fort Madison, and Lee County to try coming up with a new deal and avoid litigation.

The details of the potential agreement have not been released.

Short approached the LeeComm board on June 17 about his willingness to work on a compromise, telling the board that he felt the current agreement would not work. LeeComm board members had repeatedly said that Short gave his “blessing” to the agreement.

Short told the board that his “blessing” was simply that in his legal opinion, the proposed multi-year extension was a valid, legal document. He said that should not be inferred as this is a good agreement for the board or the residents of Lee County.

Short also reminded the board that if Keokuk’s lawsuit is allowed to proceed, the future of LeeComm will remain in question for a while because the multi-year extension is missing one signature.

“Do we have a valid agreement?” asked Short. “I don’t know the answer to that. You don’t know the answer to that. Somebody wearing a black robe is going to tell us the answer to that. The trouble is, that answer might come three months or six months from now.”

Short also told the LeeComm Board that in his opinion, the oversight of the emergency dispatch center should be left to law enforcement officers, not politicians or city staff.

“Because their [lives are] on the line. Because the lives of their officers [are] on the line. The lives of the citizens they swore to protect [are] on the line.”

One proposal floated by Short, Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Cirinna, and Lee County Sheriff Jim Sholl would be for the Lee County Emergency Management Commission to take over the financial management of LeeComm. The day-to-day operations would be managed by a small committee consisting only of law enforcement personnel and first responders.

Details of the agreement could be made public as early as this week.