Commissioners discuss restructuring Emergency Management Department

Published 3:24 pm Thursday, November 2, 2017

By Larry Holt

The Orange Leader


Orange County Commissioners’ Court held a public workshop, on Monday, to discuss four items for possible future action:
1. restructuring the Emergency Management Department to alleviate the heavy workload stemming from Risk Management, Emergency Management, and Airport operations,
2. creating one or two new county positions related to disaster recovery that may fall under management of the Emergency Management Department,

  1. Aligning Parks Department personnel with the Maintenance Department to create efficiencies, and
  2. Orange County employees’ pay during emergencies and/or declared disasters.

Creating a new county position to coordinate public assistance and another to oversee community relations and public/private resource management garnered lively discussion from members of the Court. Judge Stephen Brint Carlton said FEMA will reimburse up to 90 percent of the salary and benefits for the activities of an employee engaged in public assistance, such as grant writing and funds from FEMA as an example.

All members of the court agreed there would need to be coordinated channels of communication between the court and the employee/department manager in order for the work to be effective.

Commissioner Johnny Trahan said he wanted to make sure there were clear job duties to ensure success.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Commissioner John Gothia said. “And we lost out on money we might have gotten after Hurricane Ike because we didn’t have a dedicated person like we are talking about now.”

All members agreed creating a new position is critical to the success of disaster recovery for Orange County going forward. Who the employee reports to is yet to be determined, whether they report direct to the Commissioners Court or through the Emergency Management Department. After further discussion a general consensus was to support one employee conducting essential functions of both public assistance as well as public/private resource coordination with the help of an administrative assistant.

Realigning Parks Department resources with those of the Maintenance Department to create efficiencies was discussed in depth. Both department managers provided insight into their respective challenges and it soon became apparent to the court both departments suffer from a shortage of employee’s with the Parks Department having an immediate and pressing need for an additional employee to mow County parks. Neither department can assist the other with maintenance or repair because of their employee shortage.

Carlton questioned whether it would be possible to use some of the money assigned to the now vacant position of Parks Department Director in order to hire an additional employee to mow the grass and help maintain county parks.

All members of the court heartily endorsed Orange County citizens deserve well maintained parks for their enjoyment.

Orange County employees’ pay during emergencies and/or declared disasters has been discussed and voted on by the court in recent court sessions and was brought forward again for further discussion because of an additional option of using a flat rate to reimburse county employees’ – not tied to an employee’s hourly pay or job duties.

At issue for Carlton is trying to make reimbursement to county employees’ fair and equitable.

“Currently,” Carlton said, “one employee working during the disaster could make substantially more money at the end of it than another employee doing essentially the same work. Both are away from their families, working long hours and under stressful conditions.”

It was noted FEMA will not reimburse the county for any employee with a job description that requires the employee to respond during an emergency or declared disaster.

After much discussion Trahan said, “We voted on this two weeks ago and we don’t need to see this on the agenda every week.”

Carlton responded, “Any member of the court can bring forward any agenda item for discussion. Doing right by the citizen’s money is important. It’s the right thing to do.”

Trahan immediately agreed with Carlton’s statement.