Resident takes issue with emergency management planBy SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Yet another emergency operations-related issue before the Coweta County Board of Commissioners has caused constitutional concerns.
The commissioners voted Tuesday to adopt the National Incident Management System in Georgia.
The resolution further states that “NIMS provides a consistent nationwide approach for federal, state and local governments to work together to prepare for and respond to, and recover from domestic incidents regardless of the cause, size or complexity.”
Linda Menk spoke to the commissioners about the issue. Menk, who spoke last month about concerns with an emergency management ordinance that was tabled, said that “several of us have read through” the NIMS info and “we do have some questions on it.”
“Our concern is not with you gentlemen,” Menk said. “We have the greatest respect for the job you do and the diligence that it takes to do it.”
Menk said she understands the emergency management ordinance is “going through a great deal of review now at the state level.”
The language in that ordinance, and in the NIMS, is “trampling over our constitutional rights and our liberties,” Menk said. “We understand that this has nothing to do with you gentlemen and shooting a messenger does not accomplish anything —and that is not what we’re here for.”
Menk said that, perhaps, there could be some discussion “to determine if this is an argument we need to take up at the governor’s level. Some of the language coming out of the mutual aid agreement, emergency management ordinances and this NIMS is offensive to those of us who try to guard and protect our Constitution and our rights,” Menk said. “I wanted to be here on behalf of a number of people to let you know we do have a problem with this.”
No mutual aid agreements were on Tuesday’s agenda.
If a calamity does befall Coweta County and federal emergency aid is requested, “this aid is paid for by tax dollars,” Menk said. “So I find the language in the mutual aid agreement and the NIMS agreement offensive, both from a constitutional standpoint and from a taxpayer standpoint.”
Coweta Emergency Management Director Jay Jones was on the agenda regarding a pre-application for a grant from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency for early warning storm sirens.
“Jay, can you come up and address this?” asked Commission Chairman Rodney Brooks.
The county has to adopt the NIMS to receive federal grants, Jones said.
“I know we’re not the only jurisdiction that has kind of raised arms, if you will, with this terminology that has come up recently,” said Brooks, referring to the tabled emergency management ordinance. The Association County Commissioners of Georgia is concerned about some of the language in the emergency management template.
“I just wanted to make sure that, by accepting this particular item, we weren’t committing the county to any future situation,” Brooks said.
Brooks asked Jones if he is “getting any static from the state or federal level or from any other municipalities concerning this emergency management agreement.”
Jones said he spoke to his area coordinator.
“I want to reiterate that this was a template that ACCG put out,” Jones said. “The ordinances are one thing and those other items are supplemental.”
There had been some discussions before the ordinance got put on the commission agenda. “We already had concerns about what was on that document,” Jones said.
Parts of the ordinance that caused the greatest concern were those authorizing the county to suspend and/or regulate sales of firearms, flammable liquids, and the like, and to compel evacuations.
Some of the items in the ordinance “were just sample options that you could add,” Jones said. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency and ACCG are aware of concerns, he said.
“I know GEMA and ACCG have had meetings to discuss rewording or even omitting those altogether,” Jones said.
“It was just meant to help, not to hurt,” Jones said. “I understand the concerns. That is why they are addressing it, that is why we pulled it back.”
Coweta already has emergency management ordinances on the books, and those don’t have to be changed, according to Jones.
“I appreciate you and staff watching out for the county, and not just accepting anything that is sent our way,” said Commissioner Tim Lassetter.
Later in the meeting, the commissioners voted to adopt the NIMS.
NIMS is required by the Department of Homeland Security, said Assistant County Administrator Kelly Mickle. “It is required that you guys adopt this NIM system to receive federal funding,” she said. It’s also required to receive state funding.
The county had previously adopted the system, but “you periodically approve a new resolution to make sure that all public safety is using the system and protocols,” Mickle said. “My understanding is that it is to get everybody on the same page and to make sure, from the federal level all the way to the local level, that everyone understands the protocol when responding to an incident,” Mickle said. “It’s more directives and protocol.”