On Jan. 1, 2009, the county entered into an interlocal agreement with the Sheriff’s Office which put the responsibility of Emergency Management under the Sheriff’s purview. Prior to this, the county commission was responsible for emergency management. Commissioners voted 3-1 to give the Sheriff’s Office 90 days written notice to terminate the Interlocal Agreement, which would place the responsibility of Emergency Management back under the BOCC.
Commissioner Dukes described the motivation behind this move, stating that currently when an emergency actually occurs, “the responsibility immediately switches from the Sheriff’s Department to the then sitting Chairman and Administrator.” He said, “To me it would be much more efficient if the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) reported directly to the Administrator, period.”
Commissioner Allocco felt that Mr. Sossamon already has a lot on his plate. “Mr. Sossamon is our administrator, he oversees economic development, he’s keeping tabs on what’s going on in the airport and that’s been a little bit of an issue lately because there’s been a lot of things going on there. I don’t know that I want to add one more thing on top of the list of Mr. Sossamon’s responsibilities right now.”
However, his peers on the Commission felt that since Mr. Sossamon is ultimately responsible when it comes down to an emergency situation, he needed to be well informed and that Cecilia Patella, EOC Coordinator, should report directly to Mr. Sossamon year round.
Chairman Dukes explained that the way it is set up now, Mr. Sossamon has virtually no communication with EOC until there is an actual emergency. “That’s not good,” said Mr. Dukes.
Col. Mike Mauer Chief Deputy at HCSO expressed a different viewpoint. He stated that he was here when the interlocal agreement was arranged. “It was a dysfunctional, problematic, inefficient operation with personnel problems, communication problems, operational problems. It was a good decision at that time to transfer emergency management to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office at the EOC which is located at the HCSO and it’s a good reason to keep it there… When something happens you need a quick response from public safety and public services and emergency services.” He pointed out that there are capital expenses associated with ending the interlocal agreement, not just personnel costs.
“It works, it’s not broken, I’m not sure why you want to spend taxpayer dollars to move something that’s going to go backwards in time and potentially reissue a problem that was fixed years ago,” said Col. Mauer.
Mr. Nicholson clarified that the EOC and its employees would remain at its current location.
“I think Cecilia (Patella) should be reporting directly to Leonard. That’s my goal… We need to take this thing back over and not move any employees,” said Commissioner Nicholson.
During the discussion, County Attorney Garth Coller stated that the Board could vote on the matter if they so desired.
Commissioner Nicholson made a motion “to take them back over so that Cecilia is reporting directly to Leonard. Essentially changing the chain of command, not changing anything else.”
Charles Greenwell of the Hernando Beach Governmental Affairs Committee strongly objected to the board taking a vote on this issue since the agenda item was listed as discussion. He stated, “I respectfully disagree with you making a decision based upon an agenda item calling for discussion because we’ve had no opportunity to consider it on our governmental affairs committee or with our community regarding what is best for us on public safety. Please let the Fire Department, the Sheriff’s Office and the county tell us what the best deal is.”
Commissioner Champion seconded the motion.
The Commissioners voted 3-1 to return the responsibility of Emergency Management to the BOCC with Commissioner Allocco opposing.