Dane County 911 Center Director Joe Norwick Lacked ‘Public Safety Communications Management’ Experience

MADISON, Wis. — Dane County (Wis.) Executive Kathleen Falk hired Joe Norwick as 911 center director last year at a $100,000 annual salary even though he did not have the experience in “public safety communications management” the job description specified.

“He did not have five years of management experience in a 911 center,” acknowledged Topf Wells, Falk’s chief of staff. But county officials said Wednesday they gave Norwick, a longtime sheriff’s deputy and former chief deputy, credit for his five years as chairman of the 911 oversight board, which generally meets once a month.

Falk admitted this week the 911 center twice mishandled a 911 call from the phone of homicide victim Brittany Zimmermann at about the time she was being killed.

Falk conceded the second mistake prompted detectives to pursue a false lead for two weeks.

Falk has insisted she won’t fire Norwick.

Other job finalists

Three other finalists for the job did have hands-on management experience. According to resumes on file at the county, they were:

–Eddie Goldsmith, Boise, Idaho, former director of three 911 consolidated communications centers, currently 911 program coordinator for the state of Idaho emergency communications commission.

–Paul Welch, Charleston, Ill., former manager of the emergency communications centers for police, fire and emergency medical services in Monona and Wisconsin Rapids, presently Charleston chief of police.

–Chris Mace, Glendale, Wash., sheriff of Klickitat County, former emergency 911 coordinator for Klickitat County.

Wells said Norwick had never managed a 911 center but said Norwick brought other valuable attributes to the table.

“He was easily the strongest candidate,” he said. “I have never been more confident that we had selected the outstanding candidate in the field than in this recruitment. … I am very comfortable saying that Joe’s references were the strongest of the lot.”

One of Norwick’s references was Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, who was also a member of the hiring subcommittee that picked and ranked the four finalists ranking Norwick No. 1. Wells said Falk consulted with Mahoney about Norwick.

As a member of the Public Safety Center Communications Board’s hiring subcommittee, Mahoney interviewed Norwick. He also served as Norwick’s reference. “I didn’t see a conflict of interest,” Mahoney said.

“I’ve known Joe for my entire 28-year career. I was somebody who can speak to personal knowledge of his leadership and his ability to lead an organization.”

Mahoney said he knew some of the other candidates but didn’t provide a reference for any of them.

Norwick did not return an e-mail or phone call seeking his comment Wednesday.

Unanswered question

Last week, in a news conference about the mishandling of the 911 call, Norwick wouldn’t answer a technological question about whether the center had features that would remind dispatchers to call back when they are disconnected from a caller.

“Please excuse me,” Norwick told reporters. “My background is not sitting in a communications chair. My background is with the Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement. If there’s some question that are technical questions about the operations, I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

At another point, Norwick said, “I’m not going to stand up here and try to explain the electronic eccentricities of the way our system works. It’s a conglomeration of electronic systems that all try to work together with each other.”

Wells defended Norwick’s statements. “I think that’s a little bit of false humility,” Wells said Tuesday. “We have discussed a lot of technical issues. … He is extremely conversant with the technology.”

Wells said, however, the county didn’t feel it had to hire someone who was a 911 technology guru because the center already has that in Rich McVicar, the operations manager.

Broad experience

One thing that made Norwick valuable was his service as chief deputy under former Dane County Sheriff Gary Hamblin, Wells said.

“He brought that very broad range of hands-on management experience of an organization that is frankly bigger and more complex than the 911 center,” Wells said.

Dane County did two searches for a 911 director when Duke Ellingson retired in December 2006, according to Travis Myren, Dane County deputy director of administration. The first search ended with no finalists Falk found acceptable, Wells said.

The search was reopened, and Norwick applied in April 2007. By July 2007, his five-year contract was negotiated, approved and signed.

Norwick retired from the Sheriff’s Office in November 2006.

According to his application, he worked as a public safety project manager for a Sacramento, Calif., consulting firm making $75,000 a year from November 2006 to March 2007.

Myren confirmed Norwick is receiving his county pension as well as $102,000 annual salary for the 911 center job but didn’t have pension details. Myren said he didn’t know the dollar amount of the pension payments.

Norwick has other experience with technology, Wells said Wednesday. Norwick had written and assessed Sheriff’s Department contract proposals for computer systems for video imaging, inkless fingerprinting, touch-screen security and in-house video production, as well as computer and video technology courses and attending conferences on record-keeping software for the sheriff’s office, Wells said.

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