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Lee County Dispatcher Resigns Amid Conduct Concerns

Mar 5, 2014

A Lee County emergency dispatcher has resigned after her superiors repeatedly disciplined her for mishandling calls for service, sleeping on the job and accessing police databases improperly, according to internal records.

LeeComm Dispatch Center

LeAnn Wellman failed to notify police when she dispatched fire officials to a boiler fire at a Fort Madison preschool when children were present last year, hindering the response, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

In November, ambulance workers had to break a home owner's window to respond to a health check after Wellman failed to give them a door access code she was supposed to share.

Wellman also used a state database to look up driver's license photos of acquaintances out of curiosity, in violation of state regulations.

LeeComm, the county's dispatching service, moved to oust Wellman in December amid mounting infractions and complaints from citizens and law enforcement officials, but after drafting a termination notice, county officials gave her the option to resign instead.

She agreed to sign an agreement that gave her two weeks of severance pay, allowed her to cash out unpaid vacation from her 29-year career and required both sides not to discuss the matter publicly.

Letting her resign inadvertently gave her another benefit at taxpayer expense. Administrative Law Judge Randy Stephenson ruled last month that Wellman is eligible to collect unemployment checks since she wasn't fired for misconduct, but let go due to an "accumulation of discipline."

Reached Wednesday, Wellman declined comment.

"Why would you care? And where the hell did you get this information?" the West Point resident asked. She then hung up - something she had done to citizens calling 911 at least twice.

LeeComm director Diana Fincher-Smith declined to explain why Wellman wasn't fired, but noted the county has a progressive disciplinary system.

"What we do here is confidential in nature because of our work," she said.

Disciplinary records are exempt from Iowa's public records law, but LeeComm entered 46 pages related to Wellman into the public record as it fought her application for unemployment.

The AP obtained them through a public records request.

The termination notice listed 16 times in which Wellman was counseled, reprimanded or suspended over three years.

Fincher-Smith wrote in a letter to Stephenson that Wellman had "numerous documented incidents of misconduct" and multiple suspensions for violating "well-known written policies and procedures as well as state regulations applicable to 911 communications operators."

The records show:

- A Fort Madison Police Department captain complained that officers weren't immediately notified by Wellman of a Feb. 14, 2013, fire inside a boiler at Holy Trinity Childhood Center.

They were sent by another dispatcher only after the fire department was on scene and requested police. Children were evacuated as smoke filled the basement and the fire was contained.

Wellman received a verbal reprimand for failing to dispatch police at the time of the initial call, causing an "excessive time delay sending appropriate personnel."

- On Nov. 17, 2013, she failed to share information with responders about the keypad code required to enter the home of a Life Alert member. The ambulance service had to break a window to gain entry, angering the owner and leading LeeComm to spend $125 for a new window.

- A January 2013 review found that Wellman had obtained driver's license information from a police database - which is supposed to be used only for law enforcement purposes - on several occasions because she wanted to see acquaintances' photos. She received a written warning. Nonetheless, in May, she ran her husband's driver's license information so she could get his Social Security number to put on an insurance form. She received a three-day suspension.

- After she was moved to the overnight shift in January 2013, coworkers found Wellman sleeping on duty during two shifts, with one complaining that she was snoring. She was suspended.

- In 2012, Wellman hung up on someone reporting a possible theft in progress after arguing with the caller, who was upset that she didn't dispatch officers. She was reprimanded for failing to send officers and being rude.