Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Settle Down

Maybe the biggest advantage of bringing in an outsider to run the Dane County 911 Center is that he won't have been mired in this kerfuffle since the beginning. Sometimes, it takes a view from outside the building to tell if you've got a kitchen fire or a full-blown house fire on your hands.

John Dejung officially assumed the mantle of 911 Center Director this week, and I'm hoping my initial impressions are accurate. I only had about 20 minutes or so to meet Dejung yesterday, part of which was spent in a press conference-style briefing with other reporters, but he struck me as very level-headed, coolly competent and completely nonplussed by the size of the dynamite sandwich chunk he's bitten off to chew.

His resume certainly inspires confidence, but what I really took heart in was that in his first day on the job, he did what many other local officials haven't been able or haven't chosen to do -- he drew a line between what constitutes good, common sense 911 policy and what's just looking for something to scream about.

I asked Dejung whether the policy regarding non-emergency calls at his award-winning 911 center in Minneapolis would have yielded a different result in the sad but overly-politicized death of Farrell Kurlish last March, and what I got -- a straight answer -- floored me.

"This is perhaps going to sound flip, but, frankly, the operators that talk with residents on the phone aren't clairvoyant. Sometimes they have to deal with what they have to deal with, and unfortunately, once in a blue moon, there are things that can come along and bite you... It's very unfortunate, and an opportunity to look at procedures and policies and beef them up where they need to be beefed up, but frankly in Minneapolis I'm not sure that would have been avoided."

I always appreciate a straight answer, but coming from a guy that exudes an almost Mister Rogers-like sense of safety and security, I left the meeting feeling pretty confident that John Dejung is not another Joe Norwick. The underlying message to be taken away from all this, at least for the time being I think, is "Everybody chill the hell out. JD's got this thing."

There's just one thing I find disconcerting about John Dejung, and that's the eerie resemblance he bears to Dane County Supervisor Matt Veldran. The two men met for the first time yesterday, and I felt a chill run up my spine when they faced each other and shook hands. Veldran said something like, "I'm not on the 911 oversight committee, I just had to stop out and meet this guy everybody keeps saying looks so much like me."

It was a Kodak moment, and there I was without my camera. But honestly, judge for yourself. That's Dejung on the left and Veldran on the right.

John Dejung and Matt Veldran -- separated at birth?

No comments: