Summit County Council Members Have Qualms About Proposed Changes In Emergency Staffing

Feb 6, 2020

Credit courtesy of Summit County

The Summit County Council on Wednesday got a request from the Health Department to restructure the staff they have now working on emergency planning.   They were told the change is needed to maintain federal funding for public health emergencies.

However, some Council members said they were chagrined and disappointed that they were getting the item so soon after they already approved a budget for 2020.

Health Director Rich Bullough said that, in effect, they were asking the Council to take a current full-time employee position and split it into two jobs.

He said that in 2003, the Health Department created a position for an Emergency Planner for Public Health.    In 2017, he said, that was combined with the job of Emergency Planner and placed under the County Manager.   Last year, the position was moved to the Sheriff’s Office.

The county has received federal funds, through the state, for Emergency Public Health.    But the state audit for three years has tagged the county as being deficient, because there isn’t a position solely related to Public Health planning.

Bullough said he’s asking the Council to set up the Emergency Public Health Planner to again be one full-time position.

County Manager Tom Fisher said they had combined the two positions as an experiment, but they’re really different jobs.

He said they understand that leaves the Emergency Manager position with questions about its funding and its future.      

“So I’m not proposing that we go out and hire a new Emergency Manager right away.   If we need to figure out exactly how we fund that, we can take the steps to do that.  Now I don’t think we want to spend six months to a year doing that, because I don’t think we want to have that function uncovered that long.  But I think there are ways that we can do that.”

He said the Emergency Management Department needs to work on some issues, like conducting drills and improving staff preparedness.   But there’s also the chance to bring in some new talent.        

“Even though it’s going to end up costing the county more money—and that’s the bottom line is that we’re gonna have to fund both positions, even though some of it’s covered by grant money—we have the ability to, as we’re discovering already, recruit some pretty good talent around this function.  There’s a lot of different sources for that.   But we have some people in place within the county that have contacts that we’d be able to draw upon to recruit the talent we need that has the background, the credibility within the public safety community, as well as the charisma to really push that with employees, and push it with the community.”

However, Council member Roger Armstrong said he doesn’t like the process here, since they just approved the budget and this issue was not mentioned.   He said it feels somewhat dishonest.

Council member Doug Clyde said he had a similar reaction.      

          “It’s understandable, but why we find ourselves in this position right after budgeting is not understandable.  And the staff report is pretty clear about what’s happening at Health, but it’s not very clear about what’s going to happen with Emergency Management.  So I guess the best I can say is it’s understandable but disappointing.”

County Council Member Doug Clyde