Will Falk Take The Fall For Dane County's 911 Failure?
Kathleen Falk's quest for statewide office probably ended once and for all when she was defeated for Wisconsin Attorney General by J.B. Van Hollen. As one of the very few Democratic candidates in the country who failed to hold a Democratic seat in an overwhelmingly Democratic year, it's tough to see too many people endorsing Falk for yet another run for statewide elected office.
The question now becomes whether the recent failure of Dane County's 911 system will bring an end to Falk's career as County Executive as well?
Falk was first elected Dane County Executive in April, 1997. She has been re-elected twice since then. Should she choose to run again, she would face the voters next Spring.
On April 2, Brittany Zimmermann called 911 shortly before she was stabbed to death in her Madison apartment. When Zimmermann failed to respond to the 911 operator, the dispatcher eventually hung up and violated protocol by failing to call the number back. The dispatcher also failed to send police to the location of the call even though police maintain that the call contained evidence that should have triggered a dispatch.
The existence of the 911 call was withheld from the public for approximately a month until disclosed by The Isthmus, a Madison newspaper. To this day, Dane County authorities refuse to release an uncensored copy of the recording.
At a hastily scheduled press conference called shortly after the report in The Isthmus, Dane County Public Safety Communications Director Joe Norwick turned in one of the most embarrassing performances by a public official in recent memory. First, Norwick arrogantly refused to apologize for his agency's screw up. Second, Norwick mislead the public by falsely claiming that the 911 dispatcher remained on the job when she had in fact been transferred shortly after the incident.
Norwick was appointed to his position by Falk in July of 2007.
After an initial silence, Falk has acknowledged that Zimmermann's phone call was mishandled and apologized to her family and fiance. She nevertheless refuses to hold Norwick accountable saying that he will neither be fired nor demoted.
Loyalty is one thing. Blind, stupid, unreasoning loyalty is another!
Joe Norwick may be a great guy - wonderful with children and kind to animals. At the same time, he's taken a very bad situation and managed to make it many times worse. Even weeks after the disclosure of the 911 call, it's still unclear whether there was an effort to cover up the failures of the Public Safety Communications Department.
I think it's unlikely that Zimmermann would be alive today even had the 911 operator followed appropriate procedure. At the same time, a more prompt response may have helped police generate more leads for her as yet unsolved murder. Worse though is the fact that the inadequate response has many people in Dane County questioning the effacacy of the overall system.
As County Executive, the buck stops with Kathleen Falk. If she's unwilling to hold her appointees accountable when they screw up, she shouldn't be too surprised if voters hold her accountable next Spring.
If the Zimmermann case isn't solved quickly and/or Norwick isn't dumped, don't be too surprised if Falk ultimately ends up taking the fall for the 911 failure!