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Commissioners want to dissolve county EMA
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Tuesday, May 07, 2013 3:01 PM

Some elected officials oppose the move

By DENISE GEBERS • Progress Staff Writer

PAULDING – Changes are afoot in the structure of two mandated county services. Both the dog warden and EMA director will soon be coming under the umbrella of the sheriff’s office, at the direction of the county commissioners.

With regards to the Paulding County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), commissioners are urging members of the group’s member municipalities to dissolve the countywide executive EMA board and allow the agency to be restructured under their direction.

Current commissioners say there are supervision issues. They see the current board’s oversight of the director as intermittent rather than ongoing and would like to see a change, according to a discussion Monday morning in their office.

They would also like to see things done in what they called a “timely fashion.”

Commissioner Tony Zartman said the commissioners have been approached by citizens and first responders about an “ongoing situation,” but refused to elaborate, saying he could not discuss what was said in executive session.

“We have our reasons for making a change,” said Fred Pieper, chairman of the board of commissioners. He added that current director, Randy Shaffer, had expressed an interest in retiring.

Zartman added that commissioners are currently in discussion with Shaffer on how to keep him positively involved until his retirement, but the matter has not been resolved.

“If there is any way we can get him to retirement without affecting the EMA response to the county, we will do that,” he said.

He added that they would like to retain Shaffer in an advisory capacity, “He has a vast amount of knowledge.”

Commissioners, who indicated under their control the EMA director would be overseen by the sheriff’s office, were unsure if the director would continue to be housed at the extension building or moved to the sheriff’s office.

It was noted the finances would become a supplement to the sheriff’s budget.

They said the EMA office would be reorganized under resolution and that the EMA director would become a county employee rather than one of an executive committee.

Pieper said commissioners plan to attend meetings of each of the entities currently in the county EMA to talk about disbanding the agency. They hope to have the votes needed by the end of this month.

If the commissioners don’t get the required majority of authorizations, they have the authority to withdraw from the current board and form their own. Then, they said, all the townships and villages would be responsible for forming their own emergency response plans and hiring their own directors. Essentially, this would force the political subdivisions to join the county anyway.

Last week when asked about the matter, Sheriff Jason Landers said, “I cannot be the EMA director by law. I do not want to be the EMA director. But I agreed that I can supervise the position.”

Tamara McBride, of the Ohio EMA’s Internal/External Affairs Department, told the Progress that the ORC does not regulate the number of meetings an EMA executive board must have and its only requirement of the EMA director is to attend one of its two annual training courses.

She was unaware of any difficulties with the Paulding County EMA.

In an earlier conversation with the last remaining member of the original EMA executive board, Cecil Mayor Gene Sheets, he indicated the commissioners called special meetings of the EMA executive board April 17 and 26.

“They wanted to disband the board and take it over. They didn’t give a clear reason,” he said.

Sheets said at the first meeting it was noted that such a vote must take place at a meeting that had been advertised. The second meeting was set and a notice was posted in the courthouse, according to Sheets.

He said at the second meeting an oral vote was taken followed by a written vote. Two dissenting votes were cast.

During this meeting it came to light that the board could not vote to disband itself, but a majority of the member entities would have to take this action.

Sheets said the commissioners told the EMA board that they themselves would be pulling county money from the EMA should the board not disband. The commissioners confirmed this at the Monday morning meeting.

Sheets, who is president of the executive board and also assistant chief of the Crane Township/Cecil Fire Department, said two of the commissioners were claiming that Shaffer wasn’t doing his job, but he himself did not know of any problems.

Because there had been no previous discussion of this proposed action, Sheets said he is angered by the move. He was not happy that the commissioners did not tell them what will happen should the EMA board be disbanded.

“I would like a better understanding of why they want to do this, myself,” Sheets concluded. “I’d like people to get informed before this happens.”

Paulding Mayor Greg White is another EMA board member. Although he said he had no complaints with EMA under its current organization, he had no qualms about voting to dissolve the board.

“I’m not concerned that emergency management will be any different that it was before,” he said Tuesday morning.

Paulding Council had voted Monday evening, 4-2, to pull from the county EMA so it can be restructured.

“I have all the faith in the world that the commissioners and sheriff can manage the EMA. I think it’s going in the right direction,” White said.

Councilman Mike Trausch does not share the mayor’s views. As one of the two dissenting voters, he told the Progress Tuesday morning that he felt the measure was “ramrodded through.”

“They weren’t forthcoming with facts and figures on what they have planned. They just had papers for us to sign to dissolve the board,” he said.

He said although he understands they want to make government more efficient, his questions concerning whether or not villages and townships pulling out would still have a say in EMA issues weren’t addressed.

Attempts to reach other members of the board were unsuccessful. But Harrison Township Trustee Gary Benschneider, who is also a board member, had already signed the commissioners’ resolution to dissolve the board which was distributed Monday morning.

Rick Noggle, disaster chairman of the Paulding County Chapter of the American Red Cross, seemed puzzled by the proposed change.

“I have a great working relationship with Randy,” he said. “I think he does a great job. He did a great job coordinating that disaster on US 24.”

Noggle had not heard any complaints about the current director.

When contacted by the Progress, Shaffer confirmed retirement was an option for him as soon as December, but the commissioners had laid out retirement, resignation or firing as his options.

He was unsure that the actions currently being taken by the commissioners are legal, stating that law does not exempt nor specify that the EMA director be under the auspices of the sheriff, but of either an EMA board or the commissioners.

He was concerned about to whom the director would be responsible, the commissioners or the sheriff, as both are elected officials.

Shaffer is not only in charge of the local EMA, but also the local LEPC and HAZMAT response team.

Commissioners said it was coincidental that this matter, and that of the dog warden, is being handled at a time when a proposed amendment to Ohio House Bill 59, that would put both under the control of the sheriff, failed to make it out of committee.

SIDEBAR:

 

A history of Paulding County EMA

By DENISE GEBERS

A history: In 1989 as a cost saving measure, all 11 villages in the county plus all 12 townships were approached by the county to establish a countywide entity after the state required each to appoint an EMA director of its own or to join together into one body.

The move was pitched as a way to prepare for accidents involving hazardous materials, natural disasters or civil defense emergencies. Its organization was to be comprised of five village or township leaders, a non-elected official appointed by the board and a commissioner. This group was to select a director who would answer to them.

Membership in the EMA was described as not permanent. Any township or village was allowed to withdraw at the end of any year by giving written notice to the commissioners and the executive committee 90 days before that year’s end. But they would have to form their own EMA.

After several meetings, going into the early months of 1990, leaders of these governmental units agreed to form a county EMA. Commissioners set aside $3,000 to which each township added $100 and villages submitted anywhere from $50 to $300 for operating expenses.

An executive board was formed in February 1990 and they appointed their first director in March. He was also the director of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), another entity mandated by law that was previously in place. This group merged with the EMA for a smooth transition.)