Chester County will wait on 911 response

Chester County officials have not decided how to respond to a judge’s ruling on Friday that Sheriff Alex Underwood should retain control of the county’s 911 emergency communications system.

Circuit Court Judge Knox McMahon ruled Friday that the county council’s attempts to take control of the 911 system violated a state law empowering sheriffs to manage their own departments and personnel. The ruling came during a yearlong dispute between the county council and sheriff over who controls emergency communications in Chester County.

Chester County officials could appeal the ruling, but it could be a week before they decide whether to pursue an appeal.

Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey said Monday the county and its attorneys were still reviewing the judge’s written opinion. At the next scheduled meeting of the Chester County Council, which is Monday, Roddey said he plans to hold an executive session with council members and the county’s attorneys on the case. After that, the county council will decide whether to appeal the judge’s ruling or take other action.

“We’ll wait until we talk with them before we do anything,” Roddey said, adding “we usually don’t comment on lawsuits anyway.”

Chester County Council will meet at 6 p.m. Monday.

Council members voted in November to put 911 dispatch under Roddey’s control. McMahon’s ruling cites a personnel dispute between Underwood, who was elected in 2012, and the 911 director, the sheriff’s subordinate, as well as concerns from medical responders about the sheriff’s sole control of dispatch as the reasons for the council’s decision.

But the judge found the council’s vote violated the state’s Home Rule Act, which prohibits the supervisor from exercising authority over the sheriff or “any elected officials of the county whose offices were created either by the constitution or by general law of the state.”

Underwood’s attorney, Sandy Senn, said the judge was correct to give the sheriff control of the 911 center, which is housed inside the Sheriff’s Office in Chester.

“As a newly elected official, Sheriff Underwood certainly never envisioned being sued by his own county over control of E911,” Senn said. “Now that the court has ruled, however, I’m sure the sheriff is walking with a little spring in his step.

“In our view, this is indeed a good ruling for all Chester County citizens,” she said.

The attorney representing Chester County in the case, Joan Winters, was unavailable for comment Monday.