Winfield wants to relinquish emergency role

Published 12:07 pm Friday, December 3, 2010

If Mayor Paul Winfield has his way, the City of Vicksburg will turn over all emergency management duties to Warren County in one of the first open moves to streamline city operations and trim the number of departments and possibly employees, an effort announced earlier this week.

During a meeting Winfield called but did not attend Thursday, he told the board over a speaker phone that he wants the county to be the direct contact for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency in case of a local emergency, thus freeing up the city.

“This is part of the restructuring,” said Winfield.

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“This has caused a lot of confusion,” he said of the city’s seperation from the county in emergency management.

“As of today, the city of Vicksburg and Warren County are delinquent on our countywide emergency management plan,” Winfield said, “so we have a number of things that we need to get rolling on, and (MEMA) has been waiting on us to take some action.

“The ultimate goal is to comply with state regulations and the future of our involvement,” Winfield said. “There are still details that need to be discussed.

Action on emergency management was delayed until the board’s next meeting, on Monday.

The city’s emergency management department is estimated to cost $108,498 of the current $31.3 million city budget and covers supplies, services and capital expenses. The office is run by Anna Booth, but resources are pulled from such departments as information technology and public works.

Booth’s role following a possible relinquishment of the department will depend on what the board decides when it takes up the issue Monday, said North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, who acted as mayor pro-tem for Thursday’s meeting.

Winfield, who said he was away on “personal business” that he would not discuss, could participate in Thursday’s meeting via cell phone, city attorney Lee Davis Thames Jr. said, because of an opinion issued by Mississippi Attorney General’s Office. The meeting must be held in its usual place and time and open to the public, Thames said.

The board focused on three emergency management areas during Thursday’s discussions.

Two involve “relinquishing” the duty to the county and notifying MEMA, while the third would appoint a liaison to work with the county’s emergency management agency.

“I’m concerned with the whole nine yards here,” said North Ward Michael Mayfield. “There are some things the city is going to be responsible for, regardless, especially as it deals with homeland security and things we have to do along those lines. There are some requirements of MEMA that we still have to meet.”

In 2007, the city formed an emergency management department at the behest of former Mayor Laurence Leyens, who criticized the state and Warren County’s response to Hurricane Katrina two years earlier. Since, the city and county have been at odds over how to incorporate response functions from both entities into a comprehensive emergency response plan.

City officials said they also were delaying action Thursday because a workshop Tuesday and Wednesday at Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library is scheduled to include law enforcement and fire officials from the state, city and county hashing out duties in the event of a major storm, chemical accident or other disaster.

In August, city board members and county supervisors approved applying for $150,000 in grant money from MEMA to complete the plan. If approved, it wouldn’t require a local match. Separate grants available for personnel and equipment were held up earlier this year because the plan isn’t updated. The agency has said Warren is the only county in the grant program without an updated plan.

Warren County Emergency Management Director Gwen Coleman said late Thursday that the workshop is still on and work continues to include the city’s response to disasters whether the city’s department is cut or not.

“The city’s still included,” Coleman said, adding if enough progress is made next week, a compilation of duties might be ready this month for supervisors’ approval.

Thursday’s meeting followed by days an announcement by Winfield, Mayfield and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman that they are discussing cost-cutting ways to restructure and reduce the 36 city departments.

Beauman has said the city has too many employees, about 550, and could save up to $1 million annually on payroll with cuts and mergers.

In other business, the board approved a request by the Vicksburg Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. to use the Jackson Street Community Center to host its annual lock-in event this weekend and Dec. 17 to 18.

The use of the center comes with the conditions of a $50 deposit for cleanup and a $12 per hour charge totalling $336 for both nights for having a city employee present from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.

The board also OK’d the use of a TV and a VCR to show education films during the lock-in, at which about 70 students are expected.