Council establishes Emergency Management department in split vote

The Devine City Council voted 4-1 over the objections of District 5 Councilwoman Debra Randall to establish an Emergency Management department during the Regular meeting on Thursday, April 23.

Emergency Management Coordinator Rob Flores, who is also the Superintendent of Public Works, is the only emergency management employee.

Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez said there are no plans to add more, and explained that the request to create a department came on the advice of Stephen Horton, the Certified Public Accountant who conducted the City’s Fiscal Year 2018-2019 audit (see separate story).

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“Right now what I’m having everybody do is anything that is COVID-related, I’m telling them to write ‘COVID’ on there so we can keep [track], so when we’re able to get some kind of reimbursement, we have the actuals,” Rodriguez said. “And so Stephen was saying what we would do is we would move it to its own department in the general fund.”

Funds are budgeted for emergency management each fiscal year. The FY 2019-2020 emergency management budget was $1,800, through Rodriguez said nearly $9,000 has been spent so far thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The problem I have with this is that we’re making a department,” Randall said. “And it’s not me. I’m talking about the people that have been calling me ever since this [meeting agenda item] came out on Monday. The phone has been blazing.”

Randall said her constituents were unhappy with creating a department that won’t see much use.

Flores said the creation of the emergency management position was a federal mandate.

“They’re not upset that there is an emergency manager,” Randall said. “That’s a good thing. It’s that we’re creating a department, and that just means like in six months, we can add, when the new budget comes, ‘Oh well we’ll just throw in an extra so-much tax dollars into that budget in case’. They’re not liking it.”

District 4 Councilman Chuck Guzman said it seemed like an accounting issue, not something that necessarily required the creation of a new department.

“Again, all we were simply doing is to better monitor it,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not creating any positions or anything like that. That’s not why we were bringing it.”

District 3 Councilman David Espinosa said the world was unpredictable, and that another disaster could strike before the COVID-19 crisis abates.

“I feel that with this in place, we know what expenditures are going to have to be put out,” Espinosa said. “So I’m leaning forward to that.”

Rodriguez reminded Council that final approval of budgets is their decision.

“If there’s an amount allocated to that budget line item for emergency management, the ultimate decision lays on y’all,” Rodriguez said. “If you want to say, ‘You know what, we’re only going to put X amount of money in there, that’s all we’re going to put when we start working on the budget.”

City Attorney Tom Cate added that the creation of a department could help the City get reimbursed by the state or federal government for COVID-19 expenses.

“The Council is still going to keep allocating expenses for emergency management,” Cate said. “So it really is just an accounting change.”

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Flores said the majority of the money spent has been for personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, as well as cleaning supplies.

“We never know what the extent of the emergency is going to be, so I would say the more prepared we are, the better off,” Espinosa said. “Of course, there’s going to be a limit.”

Mayor Cory Thompson said he had also received phone calls about the proposed department.

“Perception is nine-tenths of reality,” Thompson said. “It’s the perception of what’s being done, not necessarily the reality, but the perception does dictate reality.”

A motion by Espinosa and District 2 Councilman Steve Lopez to create the emergency management department passed 4-1 over Randall’s objection.

Guzman and District 1 Councilman Rufino “Flipper” Vega also voted for the motion.

By Marly Davis

Staff Writer