Josephson asks borough manager to curtail role as EOC director
April 16, 2020
Haines Borough manager Debra Schnabel was asked to relinquish her role as incident commander for the Emergency Operations Center at Tuesday’s assembly meeting.
Assembly member Brenda Josephson raised the issue at the end of the meeting. She said a lot of the regular functions of the borough administration have been falling through the cracks in recent weeks while Schnabel has tried to balance her responsibilities as incident commander with her job as borough manager.
Josephson listed the cancellation of recent borough meetings, lack of communication between the assembly and the manager and Schnabel’s request for an extension to get the assembly a first draft of the budget as proof that the manager’s role on the EOC is preventing her from running the borough effectively.
The borough’s Emergency Operations Center is designed to function in situations “where the resources of the community… are overwhelmed by a disaster emergency,” Josephson said, citing a passage in the Haines Emergency Operations Guide. She said this suggests that the intent of the EOC is to relieve operational burden from the borough administration to allow the government to continue to run smoothly.
Josephson said she originally expressed her concern to the borough manager in an email on March 25.
Schnabel said that, in response to the concerns Josephson raised in her email, she scaled back her workload with the EOC. She said she thought Josephson made a good suggestion in her email that the borough manager did not need to participate in every moment of EOC meetings.
Schnabel said she has retained the title of incident commander but has delegated most of her responsibilities to deputy incident commander Carolann Wooton. She said she estimates she has participated in two or three hours of the roughly 15 hours of EOC work that have taken place in the past two weeks. Schnabel said she may not have communicated effectively to Josephson that she had taken her suggestion the first time around.
Josephson said that she raised the issue publicly at the assembly meeting because she believes that Schnabel’s EOC responsibilities are still negatively impacting her work as manager. Josephson said she mentioned her concern in an effort to be constructive and will continue to express her concern if the situation does not improve.
Assembly member Gabe Thomas said it is particularly important that the borough manager be present and available as the assembly begins work on the budget. The manager’s role is to help plan for the community’s long-term recovery. Day-to-day emergency operations should be delegated, he said.
It is important that the manager retain some connection to the EOC, assembly member Stephanie Scott said. She said the manager needs to know what the EOC is doing so she can perform her job effectively. Scott said she would not support an assembly-driven effort to have the manager removed from the EOC.
The assembly has the ability to direct the manager’s actions. “We could make a motion to require her to delegate the (EOC) role to someone else,” Josephson said. She said she hopes that it will not come to this. As long as the borough is running efficiently and doing the “people’s work,” Josephson said it doesn’t matter to her what title the manager has in connection to the Emergency Operations Center.
Schnabel said she will research how other communities are structuring their Emergency Operations Centers. She said while some communities have paid incident commanders, neighboring communities including Skagway and Wrangell have managers fulfilling the incident command role. She said she will have a discussion with Wooton before making any final decision about further scaling back her role on the EOC.