The embattled director of Dane County's 911 Center resigned today, following months of scrutiny about the center's operations and management.
Joe Norwick, the retired chief deputy of the Dane County Sheriff's Office who County Executive Kathleen Falk handpicked to lead the center in 2007, offered his resignation to Falk this morning.
"Frankly, I'm a little surprised this didn't happen sooner," says Scott McDonell, chairman of the Dane County Board. " It's been a rough year for Joe and for the 911 Center."
On Thursday, Isthmus reported that Falk and the 911 Center Board have failed to conduct a performance evaluation of Norwick, despite widespread, publicly aired problems at the center. As chairman of the oversight board before Falk handpicked him as center director, Norwick had also failed to conduct annual evaluations of the center director.
The failure violated county law and the job contract between the director and the county.
The center has been under scrutiny since May, when Isthmus reported that a dispatcher received a call from UW-Madison Brittany Zimmermann's cell phone before she was murdered, but never sent police to the call.
In the ensuing days, Norwick misled reporters about the job status of the dispatcher who took the call, and admitted during a County Board hearing that he did not know technical details about the center's capacities. Falk stood by her center director and at a tense press conference stressed that Norwick would be neither disciplined nor fired.
Both Falk and Norwick also initially provided unclear answers as to whether technology would have pinpointed the location of Zimmermann's call, and whether the dispatcher heard any noises of significance. They also provided contradictory information about how the call was disconnected.
Before being tapped from retirement to run the 911 Center, Norwick worked for three decades at the Sheriff's Office. Many in law enforcement liked Norwick personally and many described him as a good guy, although several said he seemed out of his element as director of the 911 Center.
It's unclear what today led Norwick to quit. The resignation is effective Sept. 19.
"This was Joe's decision. Kathleen did not ask him to resign," says Falk's spokesman Josh Wescott. "This is a guy who spent three decades in the sheriff's office and came out of retirement to take this job. I think he has an interest in going back into retirement."
"I thank Director Norwick for his service and the enhancements he embarked upon as director of the Public Safety Communications Center," Falk said in a press release.
In the statement (available for download at right), Falk credited Norwick with "initiating a variety of technology and infrastructure upgrades in the 911 Center" and for beginning a $30 million emergency radio upgrade to be rolled out over the next several years.
Falk did not pick one of Norwick's two deputies to take over in the interim. Instead, she tapped Kathy Krusiec, director of Dane County Emergency Management for the past 15 years, as interim director.
According to Falk's statement, Krusiec will not seek the job permanently. The county will conduct a nationwide search for a permanent director.
McDonell praises the selection of Krusiec and looks forward to the hiring of a new director to take over the troubled center.
"I think it's a chance to try to do the recruitment again and get someone with some experience running 911 Center operations to bring a fresh perspective," he says.
McDonell doesn't know why Norwick resigned today, but does not believe Falk sought his resignation or pressured him to quit.
"I haven't talked to Joe," says McDonell. "I thought Joe was a good county employee when he was at the Sheriff's Office, but this has been a pretty rough year, and it's probably good to turn over a new leaf."
Previous Isthmus and TDP stories about the 911 Center:
More 911 staff is on the way 5/29/08
911 snafu: Secrets and lies 5/8/08
Comp Time with Noble Wray 5/7/08