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County Hears Concerns Over Emergency Manager Position

 

October 29, 2020

The Pottawatomie County Board of Commissioners had a short agenda at Monday's meeting, but engaged in a lengthy discussion about the potential to hire a new county Emergency Management Director.

During the weekly updates, the commissioners heard from Environmental Deputy Dustin Richardson, but received only a paper update from the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center.

Richardson said he's made progress this week, but the rainy weather was holding him up.

"I had four dumpsites reported, and I've cleaned up three of them," Richardson said.

The PCPSC update did not contain all of the usual information. No update was given on current inmate count. In addition, no mention was made of COVID-19 cases within the facility. During last week's update, the PCPSC reported five inmates testing positive for the virus.

Perhaps the least routine business on the scheduled agenda was consideration to go out for six month bids on materials, hauling, and services.

Commissioner Randy Thomas said the six month bids consist largely of the frequently used materials and services that the county uses all the time.

"Once we've got it on the bid, we don't have to go through that process, because they're already on our six month bid," Thomas said.

He said these items might be drainage pipes, tinhorns, rocks, etc.

"It saves a lot of heartache and headache," Thomas said.

The commissioners voted unanimously, 2-0, to go out on the routine six month bids. Commissioner Eddie Stackhouse was not present for the meeting.

During the public comments section, Bethel Acres Emergency Management Director Johnny Connover said, "I have real concerns, and I have over the last few years, with the county E.M. position."

He said in the past, the county emergency response has been sluggish, especially when the city of Shawnee is also impacted. For some time, the county has been sharing emergency management services with the City of Shawnee. Connover said his understanding is that the county might have an emergency plan in place by January, but that might not be soon enough.

"January is too late, today's probably a better way to do it," Connover said. "We've got storms coming."

Commissioner Melissa Dennis responded to Connover, and said she was sympathetic to his concerns.

"We can't change what's happened in the past, obviously," Dennis said. "And we feel your pain, I mean we understand. The reason we haven't hired anyone up until now, is because the county just didn't have that type of salary in its budget."

Dennis said good, properly certified Emergency Management Directors are in high demand, and expensive to hire.

"They're worth their weight in gold," Dennis said.

Dennis said the county previously had a hazard mitigation plan in place, but it unfortunately expired in August.

"Long story short, that ball was dropped," Dennis said. "And there's nobody in that place to pick it up."

Dennis said to her knowledge, the City of Shawnee plans to hire another Emergency Management director as well.

However Shawnee resident Rob Morris, who spoke during public comments, said a city commissioner told him off the record the city did not plan to hire a new Emergency Management Director. Instead, he said the city planned to continue splitting the position between the fire and police chief.

Despite Morris' concerns about Shawnee's emergency management, he said he supports the county's plan to hire their own Emergency Management Director.

In a phone call after the meeting, City Manager Chance Allison dismissed Moris' information as inaccurate. He said the city is currently looking at hiring a standalone emergency management director.

Allison said the only reason the position had remained split between the emergency service chiefs for so long was largely due to COVID-19. He said that when the previous Emergency Management Director left at the beginning of the pandemic, the fire chief and police chief agreed to handle the responsibilities for the time being.

"We didn't feel like it was the proper time to go out in a search for an emergency management director," Allison said. "In many cases, you might be hiring someone else's Emergency Management director from their jurisdiction, and we didn't feel like that would be appropriate at the time."

But now, Allison said the city is moving forward to install a new Emergency Management Director.

"Moving forward, we actually opened that position on Sept. 9, 2020," Allison said. "The advertisement window closed on Sept. 30, and then we are looking to interview in the next week or two for the folks who submitted interest."

The county board of commissioners, for its part, also appears prepared to enter the Emergency Manager market, as Commissioner Randy Thomas said consideration to call for applicants for the position is already on next week's agenda.

He said he agreed with Connover that it's better to get the position filled sooner rather than later.

"We need to go ahead and get on the stick on that," Thomas said. "And we've got the money to do it, so why not?"

 

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