THE REPUBLICAN MAJORITY on the Columbia County Board of Supervisors has flexed its political muscle and weakened the office of the new sheriff, who won election on the Democratic ballot line two months ago and took office this week.
THE DEMOCRATIC MINORITY on the Columbia County Board of Supervisors has flexed its political muscle by making a big deal about what should be a routine administrative action.
Which overheated tabloid lead paragraph is right? Probably both.
Here’s a quick recap of the story so far:
Last November voters elected Don Krapf to a four-year term as sheriff. He won with 54% of the vote running as an independent candidate with the support of the Democratic Party.
A few weeks later the chairman in the county Board of Supervisors, a Republican, announced that the county was moving the county Emergency Management Office out of the Sheriff’s Office and changing its status to that of a department. Instead of reporting directly to the new sheriff about emergency matters, the Emergency Management would report directly to the chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
The chairman, Matt Murell (R-Stockport), said the reason for the changes were to make reporting of critical information about emergencies more efficient. Democrats weren’t buying it. So Chairman called a special online meeting to discuss the issue.
At this online “public hearing” David Harrison, Jr., head of the county’s small, highly-trained Emergency Management Office team, said that the current system of reporting to the sheriff has only been in place since 2011 and a lot has changed since then. (Mr. Harrison is a popular former sheriff who retired at the end of 2013.) Other Republicans sought to assure Democrats that there was nothing partisan about the new plan or its timing (just as Mr. Krapf takes office).
Democratic supervisors asked their GOP colleagues to explain the rush to make the change. The response was something to the effect that if we don’t make it more efficient now it won’t be more efficient. Watch the video and judge for yourself.
Despite their political differences, both sides agree on the importance of the emergency management team and the dedication and skill of the people who plan for the best ways to respond to worst case emergencies.
So that brings the story up-to-date except for what the board decided to do about its efficiency plan. And what the board did a few days ago was to approve that plan. It was carried by a strict party-line vote.
That’s what majorities get to do in a democracy and it would end this tale with that vote, except for one item discussed during the online meeting but not resolved. It was brought up by Minority Leader Tistrya Houghtling (D-New Lebanon), who said she had requested but had not received data about the emergencies the Emergency Management Office had addressed in the past. Mr. Harrison said the data might not be available for multiple reasons. The concern over the possible loss of—or failure to collect—data also left Supervisor Brenda Adams (D-Canaan) and other Democrats perplexed.
It was as if for the majority data collection is an annoying detail.
But data is not a sideshow, especially when it comes to climate change. Without data, how can the public ever know if the Emergency Management Department is functioning efficiently?
There is an opportunity here to re-imagine how Emergency Management interacts with the public as in our Climate Smart Communities. It’s likely we’re very well prepared for most emergencies. It’s possible there are threats that require more thought.
The process should start with a freeze on the lines of Emergency Management Department reporting, leaving the sheriff in charge at least until there is some bipartisan consensus on how the change will benefit the people of Columbia County.
Contact your supervisor. Tell him or her that emergency management requires consensus.