YOU’LL BE GLAD TO KNOW that the county may be functioning more efficiently in 2022. Well, not necessarily the whole county, but the part of it that staffs Emergency Management, a “part-time department of five.”
Right now the dedicated and knowledgeable staff of Emergency Management is part of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. But the new efficiency proposal introduced as part of the county’s proposed 2022 budget will instead see the Emergency Management Department report directly to the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, Matt Murell (R-Stockport). The budget for the Emergency Management Department will be divided between the board and the Sheriff’s Office. That sounds kind of efficient, doesn’t it?
The timing was efficient too, because Republicans hold a majority of the votes on the Board of Supervisors, and Sheriff David Bartlett is a Republican. But Sheriff Bartlett, who ran for a third term in the November election, was defeated by Donald Krapf, a Sheriff’s Office sergeant who ran against Sheriff Bartlett on the Democratic line. Sheriff-Elect Krapf will be sworn in January 1. Will making this change before the new sheriff is sworn in make the county more efficient?
Chairman Murell thinks so. But Sam Hodge, head of the county Democratic Committee, called the plan to transfer funding and Emergency Management personnel from the Sheriff’s Office to the Board of Supervisors nothing less than “defunding the police.”
Whatever you think about this proposal, “efficient” isn’t the first thought that comes to mind.
Chairman Murell has issued a two-page statement scolding the Democrats for suggesting the Board of Supervisors is about to defund the police—deputies, investigators and other police personnel of the Sheriff’s Office—when efficiency was really the goal and only for a handful of people.
It’s true that there is no proposal in the budget to curtail law enforcement operations. But the longer the statement explaining the actual proposal went on, the less convincing it sounded. Mr. Hodge was right to chide the chairman about it.
Even though Emergency Management involves only a few employees and a modest budget, the decision to transfer these skilled employees from the Sheriff’s Office is a serious matter of public policy that can’t be explained away by a desire for “efficiency” alone. If the chairman of the Board of Supervisors wants people he knows and trusts to report directly to him on potential threats to the county, that’s reasonable. But politically it’s awkward, because it represents a vote of no confidence in Sheriff-Elect Krapf.
Chairman Murell denies that “political retribution” against the sheriff-elect played a role in the efficiency proposal. But what we need to know is whether having the Emergency Management Department report directly to the Board of Supervisors rather than the sheriff will make us safer.
The Emergency Management Team should not be politicized. It is too important for that.
Chairman Murell has “recommended” that members of the Board of Supervisors gather for a special meeting to address the proposal to transfer control of the Emergency Management Department. The obvious options are to adopt the transfer of Emergency Management Department as proposed or to leave the department where it is. There might be a compromise, with a delay in the transfer of the department after study of the proposal with public input. It could be worth the wait.
The tasks of the Emergency Management Department will only grow in the years ahead as climate change exerts an ever greater impact on this region and the planet.
We‘ll need efficiency. That’s for sure. But efficiency isn’t an end in itself and should not be used as an excuse to mask difficult political decisions.