City Officials Alarmed At Consequences Of Emergency Management Legislation
February 4, 2021
A bill proposed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, House Bill 2839, is drawing criticism from officials within multiple local governments.
The bill, authored by Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy), would amend a section of state statute governing the establishment of emergency management services for municipalities. The amendment would require that all municipalities of less than 100,000 people "create an agreement with the county for emergency management services but shall not employ an emergency management director or emergency management staff."
This direct prohibition on smaller municipalities hiring their own emergency managers would affect even Shawnee, the largest municipality in Pottawatomie County. During Monday's meeting of the Shawnee Board of City Commissioners, Commissioner Daniel Mathews urged constituents to contact their state representatives, and voice opposition to the bill.
"House Bill 2839, read it and reach out to your people," Matthews said. "It would prohibit municipalities such as ourselves from hiring emergency management staff."
During their Monday night meeting, Bethel Acres' Board of Trustees voted unanimously in favor of sending an official letter of objection to the House of Representatives. Johnny Conover, Bethel Acres' emergency management director, told the trustees that they might not be able to afford emergency management services if HB 2839 was passed.
"My take is that you would have to contract with the county to do this service," Conover said. "Which I'm saying, on the low end, would probably cost you around $35,000 a year."
Conover said his estimate is based on some of the smaller municipalities that already contract their emergency management services through the county.
"The only counties that have the staff to do this, I would believe, would be Oklahoma, Tulsa, and ... Cleveland," Conover said.
Pottawatomie County's emergency management director, Chad Larman, also stated his opposition to HB 2839 after Monday's county commissioner meeting.
In a follow up email to The Countywide & Sun, Larman presented eight points on why he felt HB 2839 would have negative impacts in Pottawatomie County. But the heart of Larman's argument was summed up well in the first of his eight points.
"It defies the very foundation of emergency management, that all disasters start and end at the local level," Larman said in the email.
Larman said the bill would increase state spending on emergency response, increase risks in communities, and decrease or eliminate Federal Disaster Relief funds to local jurisdictions within the state.
"There is no way a County Emergency Manager can know each individual community in their county as well as a local emergency manager can," Larman's email reads.
As of Feb. 2, HB 2839 has been given a second reading in the House, and referred to the rules committee for further consideration.