Chester County won’t pursue appeal of 911 ruling

The fight for control of Chester County’s 911 system reached its conclusion Monday, when the Chester County Council declined to pursue an appeal of a judge’s ruling giving control of emergency communications to the sheriff.

After meeting in a closed-door executive session with the county’s attorneys this week, council members decided not to appeal Judge Knox McMahon’s decision that a November council vote to take the 911 system out of Sheriff Alex Underwood’s office and place its director under the county supervisor violated state law setting the prerogatives of the Sheriff’s Office.

County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey said after Monday’s meeting that the county would no longer try to take control of Chester’s 911 system.

“We’re not going to do anything the judge told us not to do, until we can go back to talk to him,” Roddey said.

Instead, the county asked attorney Joan Winters to work with Underwood’s lawyer to “clarify” some terms of the judge’s ruling.

First, the county wants to stipulate that the Sheriff’s Office could voluntarily transfer control of emergency communications to the county in the future. The County Council also wants assurances it can still impose budget cuts on the Sheriff’s Office as part of its normal budgeting procedures without violating the same law.

County officials want the clarification because McMahon’s ruling orders them not to “interfere in any manner with the sheriff’s operations, employees, equipment, budget, payroll, etc. of the E-911 Center.”

Sheriff’s Office attorney Sandy Senn said she doesn’t plan to oppose the county’s stipulations, and the clarification will likely bring the year-long legal battle to an end. Chester County would otherwise have 10 days to file an appeal from the time McMahon issued his ruling on Sept. 26, which would have required the county to file notice of appeal by the end of this week.

Winters could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Underwood also did not respond to a call seeking his reaction to the county’s decision.

The Chester County Council voted last year to move 911 dispatch to the supervisor’s office, apparently the result of a personnel dispute between Underwood, who was elected in 2012, and the 911 director Virginia Sloan.

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.”