From Staff Reports
PAULDING – Not everyone is happy with the Paulding County commissioners’ plans to dissolve the county Emergency Management Agency agreement and put the EMA under the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office.
President of the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association, Bruce Moritz, said that the association was not in favor of the move and would not be until it was vetted and discussed in a public forum.
Moritz said that it would open up a “whole new can of worms” and he would like to know the reasoning behind the commissioners’ decision.
Moritz also said that the Buckeye State Sheriff Association had told his agency that they had been approached by the Ohio County Commissioners Association who asked them to take over the EMA duties in Paulding County.
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.
Commissioners are making visits to each village council and township meeting to get each one to sign off and dissolve Paulding County’s current EMA board.
The document that townships and villages are being asked to sign is only two sentences long. It gives no explanation, other than “...it has become necessary to change the method” of providing EMA services. No plan for a proposed new organization has been issued. It is not clear whether local entities would have any input or control whatsoever in how the EMA is operated.
Moritz said, “People need to be informed of the change and what it will entail. They should not sign anything until they understand any repercussions and basically what is going to happen. It is going to effect each police and fire department.”
The county commissioners reported there are supervision issues within the EMA. 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 held last 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. However, no reason was given.
Paulding County EMA director Randy Shaffer was advised in a meeting that he could retire, resign or get fired. The commissioners said last week that “we laid out all the options to him.”
On May 9, the Progress presented the commissioners with a request pursuant to the Ohio Records Law, Ohio Revised Code, 149.43, for copies of any and all complaints received by the county regarding EMA service or activities over the past 12 months. This would include written complaints, emails, phone logs, meeting minutes and any other written or electronic documents.
At press time Tuesday, no records of any kind had been released to the Progress.
Shaffer is also 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.
Also concerning him is who the director would be responsible to, 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.
Heidi Fought, director of the governmental affairs branch of the Ohio Township Association, told the Progress on Friday that her agency opposed a recent proposed amendment to Ohio House Bill 59 that would have allowed county commissioners to hand over control of the EMA directorship to control of the sheriff’s department.
“One size does not fit all,” she said. “This has to be an informed local decision. There might be counties where it may be easier for the sheriff to have control.”
She emphasized, however, that local control requires “input from everyone in the process.”
Fought audibly gasped when she learned Paulding County commissioners had the local EMA board vote to disband itself with no prior conversations of the entities involved.
“What I would recommend to our members is to ask ‘Why?’ Are there issues with the board? Will there be a cost savings? Has there been wrongdoing?’ If there is no rationale, is this change worth it?” she said.
“Why is the change needed and why do they want control?”
She noted that not only did her agency not support the proposed amendment, but other agencies opposed it as well, including the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, Ohio Fire Chief’s Association and the Ohio Emergency Management Association of Ohio.