Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski last week presided over the first Hurricane Preparedness Meeting of 2012. Article
The meeting, which features a “round table” report on preparations by each of the governmental entities on Galveston Island, was begun by former mayor Jan Coggeshall in the 1980s. It has been continued throughout the years and has proved to be a useful clearing house for problems that arise during weather emergencies.
Except for a period during the administration of former mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, the meeting has been public, with the news media welcome. Thomas and former city manager Steve LeBlanc, apparently angered over commentaries Guidry News Service published on poor actions by the city, made the decision to prohibit our coverage.
Mayor Jaworski, upon his election, announced that the meetings would again be open to the public and the media.
Under state law, elected mayors and county judges assume special powers required to govern during hurricanes and other disasters. Thus, I was pleased that Jaworski took this responsibility seriously and re-opened the doors.
Those who gave reports at last week’s meeting included the National Weather Service, the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Galveston County Office of Emergency Management, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Gulf Coast Center, Galveston Housing Authority, Galveston EMS, CenterPoint Energy, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Galveston Park Board of Trustees and the Beach Patrol, the Port of Galveston, AT&T and the city’s Functional Needs Response Team.
It is critical that these organizations maintain open lines of communication before emergencies so that they can work together when they do occur.
Council members Steve Greenberg and Elizabeth Beeton have taken issue with the mayor’s emergency management authority. Greenberg would give extraordinary powers to the unelected city manager rather than the mayor.
Greenberg’s theory is that because Galveston has a council-manager form of government, the mayor’s duties are primarily ceremonial. However, following Hurricane Ike an emergency meeting of the dysfunctional city council ended abruptly when the quorum was broken by a disgruntled member who walked out. Because of established state law, which has been proven effective by years of experience, the city continued to operate with an elected official at the helm.
While a professional emergency management coordinator is very valuable as an aid to the mayor in hurricane emergencies, it is the mayor who was elected to be responsible and who must face the public after the emergency subsides.
I would hope that the Galveston County Mayors and Councilmembers’ Association, the Houston-Galveston Area Council and Texas Municipal League will oppose Greenberg’s and Beeton’s proposal; and that it is rejected by the Texas Legislature if it goes that far.
This is an issue that Greenberg has championed for several years, and it is not something that he brought up as an issue in the May 12 election. However, I hope that emergency management questions will be asked of the candidates for mayor and city council and will be considered by the voters.
Candidates for mayor have been engaged in spirited debate, and I thought that it was curious that not one of them, other than Jaworski, was at last week’s hurricane preparedness meeting.
This essay is not intended to be a criticism of Lewis Rosen, Beau Rawlins or Greg Roof for not attending the meeting; but is a suggestion that Jaworski’s challengers should pay attention to the issue of emergency preparedness.
There is no issue of more importance to the city of Galveston.
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