OPINION: Homeland Insecurity?

KEVIN HALPERN, Courier Co-Editor

The Cannon County Commission spent almost an hour of its monthly meeting Tuesday night discussing various concerns with the Cannon County Emergency Management Agency.

By comparison, commissioners spent only a few minutes discussing the major item on the agenda and the most important business they take up each year, approving the Appropriations for the county's annual budget and the Property Tax Rate to fund the expenditures.

What is ironic is that this year's budget includes no funding for Homeland Security, which comes from state and federal grants. Apparently with the nation's current fiscal woes, that money flow has ceased.

While it is unclear at this point whether there are any real or serious problems with the operation of the local Emergency Management Agency under the directorship of Faye Morse, it is clear that several county commissioners have questions.

They posed those question to Morse at Tuesday's meeting. Some of those same questions have been expressed to her at recent meetings of the county's Homeland Security Committee, which have turned contentious.

The concerns center around an inventory of items the EMA has purchased in past years with Homeland Security grant money, the current status and usage of the items, and the location of where equipment is stored.

There have also been complaints about lack of response to local emergency situations, which have reportedly brought about the need for outside agencies to be called in on several occasions.

From her standpoint, Morse believes she has performed well as EMA director. She points out that she wrote the grants that brought the state and federal money to the county. She serves as EMA director at no cost to the county as it is an unfunded position. She is on call 24/7. She must attend regional task force meetings and formulate emergency preparedness plans. She must have rapid access to the equipment to respond to emergency situations.

During Tuesday's meeting the commissioners called for a Special Session on Sept. 4 to further discuss the issues surrounding the Emergency Management Agency. Since then an Emergency Meeting of the commission has had to be called for this coming Monday night because it appears Morse may have been wrong when she told the commissioners Tuesday that she had been "grandfathered in" when the state established new certification criteria to serve as county-wide Fire Chief, leaving the local volunteer fire department personnel without death benefit coverage and fundraising capabilities.

The position of EMA Director is appointed by the county executive upon approval of the county commission. It may be that a change in leadership is the only way the current controversy will come to an end.