UPDATE: Board fights decision to allow emergency communications official to work remotely from Florida

Target 3

UPDATE 7/28/21— Coles-Moultrie County Emergency Telephone System Board (ETSB) members fought back against Coles County 911 Director James Calvert.

They confronted Calvert at a meeting Tuesday afternoon about his decision to let his assistant director, Amanda Williamson work from Florida.

The contention all began with a letter WCIA’s Target 3 investigators obtained Monday morning. (Scroll down to read the full letter)

Tuesday’s meeting was scheduled as an Executive Session, to be closed to the public, but at the last minute, the Board had a discussion about whether it was legal to hold this meeting out of the public’s sight. Coles County State’s Attorney Jesse Danley told Target 3, he recommended they err on the side of transparency and open it up.

Target 3 was able to listen to the meeting, which lasted more than an hour. Investigators obtained an audio recording, courtesy of non-profit citizen journalist group Edgar County Watchdogs.

The letter addressed to 911 board members, from ETSB (911 Board) Chairman Dan Ensign, was the topic of discussion. In it, Ensign tells the board that Calvert signed a contract for Williamson to work remotely from Florida for the rest of the year, and recommends her new contract be extended until January 2023 at a later date.

Ensign also said this was Calvert’s decision and other board members don’t have a say.

“This was done in the best interest of the center and was never self-serving on either my, nor Amanda’s parts,” Calvert said, addressing the board on Tuesday.

“I stand on the belief that I had the authority to do this, and I still have the authority to extend it if I see fit.”

Still, several questions arise after reading the letter. For example, can Williamson adequately be on-call to help in a pinch from Florida? Being on-call after-hours and on weekends is listed in her job duties.

Plus, the letter mentions she would be able to fly back to Illinois if needed. Who would pay for that?

“I feel like what he did with the letter was say ‘It’s either going to be my way or the highway,'” shared Mattoon resident Rob Perry.

Perry spoke during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think most of this would’ve been avoided if he went directly to the board,” he added.

Perry said he’s lived in Mattoon all his life.

“I find it kind of perplexing that somebody could be hands-on all the way in Florida while stuff’s going on here in Illinois. I don’t know how you do that,” he said, clarifying that he does not entirely understand what the job entails.

The board presented a directive, saying the director would not be able to extend Williamson’s new contract past December without the board’s consent. The directive was written by a private attorney.

At least a couple of board members expressed that they have no issue with Williamson or Calvert. It was about the way the situation was handled.

Calvert‘s job duties include selecting an assistant director. He’s also responsible for hiring, firing, retention, and evaluation of personnel. However, whether he can alter a contract without talking to the board is not spelled out.

After some discussion of the directive, Calvert appears to leave the room (as far as Target 3 can tell from an audio recording).

Perry said he saw it happen.

In the recording, he says “I don’t know if I can continue working here,” and not long after that you hear a door shut.

It’s still unclear what’s next with the directive. Board members said they were going to email it to Calvert at the end of the meeting. Target 3 requested a copy, but have not gotten a response as of this article.

We also reached out to Calvert and Williamson and stopped by the 911 Center. We contacted 911 Board members, Coles County Board members, and the attorney who wrote the directive. All of the above either did not respond or would not comment.

UPDATE 7/27/21 (8:30 p.m.)— We now know a discussion that Target 3 investigators were told was closed to the public, was opened right before.

Target 3 obtained an audio recording tonight from non-profit citizen journalist group Edgar County Watchdogs. In it, Board members voted to hold an open session to discuss Williamson’s contract.

UPDATE 7/27/21 (6:00 p.m.) — Officials in Coles and Moultrie counties met Tuesday to discuss a decision outlined in the letter our WCIA Target 3 team obtained Monday morning.

The letter said the counties’ joint 911 Assistant Director, Amanda Williamson, could work remotely from Florida for the rest of the year.

On Monday, Coles-Moultrie County Emergency Telephone System Board (911) Vice-Chairman Sam Gaines told WCIA the super-majority of the board is not okay with the decision. Gaines is also the Mattoon Police Chief.

Tuesday’s special meeting was scheduled more than a week ago. It’s unclear when the discussion of Williamson’s contract was added to the agenda.

The meeting was scheduled to be held in Executive Session, and Target 3 investigators are working to find out what was discussed.

Original Story 7/26/21

MATTOON, Ill. (WCIA)– Remote work has been normalized during the pandemic, but the decision to allow a top emergency communications official for Coles and Moultrie Counties to do so is not sitting well with the joint Emergency Telephone System Board (ETSB).

WCIA obtained a letter written by the Board’s Chairman Dan Ensign. It said Coles County 911 Director James Calvert has decided to let Assistant Director Amanda Williamson work from Florida for the rest of the year.

Williamson has to move because of her husband’s job, the letter added. Chairman Ensign wrote, keeping Williamson employed from roughly a thousand miles away is in the best interest of the department, because of her knowledge of ongoing projects.

The question is, would she be readily available in an emergency?

Ensign’s letter says Williamson will have remote access to her computer as if she were in the office.

WCIA reached out to Board Vice-Chairman and Mattoon Police Chief Sam Gaines. He said a super-majority of the board is against the decision, adding, he and other members requested it be discussed at a special meeting of the ETSB board Tuesday.

The discussion is scheduled to happen in a closed meeting Tuesday at 2 p.m. in Mattoon.

In his letter, Ensign said board members do not have a say in the decision. He said Williamson reports to Calvert only.

Ensign did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

We also spoke with Calvert this afternoon. He said he nor Williamson could comment on the letter because it is an agenda item in an executive session.

Stick with us as we learn more about this developing story.

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