Keep the EMA office as is; it’s working fine now

I attended a June 10 meeting where Sheriff Larry Mincks proposed taking over the daily operations and disaster planning for the Washington County EMA. Long-time EMA Director Jeff Lauer also was present but he did not address questions or explain his concerns for fear of repercussions; However, several members of area volunteer fire departments spoke out against the sheriff’s proposal, including the head of the county firefighter’s association. Our hope is the public is paying attention to this matter and will also pressure our County Commissioners to reject the proposal.

The EMA office should remain independent and not be influenced by the politics of the sheriff’s office. The EMA office is responsible for assessing risk, developing training and safety planning for incidents such as natural disasters, chemical explosions/spills, medical pandemic, major fires and other threats to public safety. Very little of what the EMA does has anything to do with law enforcement and it should remain that way.

The commissioners, who currently have oversight of the EMA office, have expressed concerns that they aren’t sure the EMA office is operating as it should. Mincks says he can provide better accountability and credibility for the EMA office. He says he doesn’t plan on major changes for the office, but that Lauer would be required to provide his office with logs of his daily activities. It sounds like the first step in harassing an employee out of a job and I don’t see how it makes anyone in this county safer.

In defending his consideration for the proposal, Commissioner Ron Feathers said he wouldn’t know what to do if there was a county-wide power outage and he couldn’t reach Lauer. I would start by suggesting calling AEP or Washington Electric. If you see downed power lines, you might consider calling your local fire department. Beyond that, I think our commissioners should take some time to learn the responsibilities of the EMA office. The Ohio EMA is always available for questions or to provide resources (unless they’ve been taken over by the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, but that wouldn’t seem quite right, would it?). Area fire departments are also a resource available for questions of accountability.

When our commissioners took office, the oversight of the EMA was part of the job. Rather than pass the buck, our commissioners should take a little time to learn the their job and all of the different offices in the county. In recent years, the sheriff has assumed control of the dog warden’s office and the county’s 911 system. Everyone associated with those offices has since been replaced by Mincks. I’m not sure any of the offices is operating better than before.

The bottom line is Jeff has been serving our community well and our commissioners are more than capable of learning what his responsibilities are. If they did, they would know he’s doing it right. Please help us keep our current, unbroken system the way it is.

Todd Meeks

Assistant Fire Chief

Reno Volunteer Fire Department