The role of the city manager during disaster discussed in Galveston

6 05 2012

Heber Taylor, Galveston Daily News, wrote the following article, published on May 5, 2012:

The Galveston City Council discussed the possibility of urging the Legislature to change the law and give cities the choice of who makes decisions during a disaster, such as a hurricane.  The Daily News has contended the city manager, rather than the mayor, should have emergency powers. Some council members agree.

It’s the same issue voters are facing with No. 3 on the proposed charter amendments.  The question is whether cities that really believe in the council-manager form of government have the right to stick to that form of government — even after they’ve been hit by a hurricane.

The idea behind the council-manager form of government is to put the city’s policy in the hands of elected officials while putting operational management into the hands of professional managers. Day in, day out, a manager with professional experience runs the day-to-day operations of the city. The manager has the power to hire and fire. The council has the power to hire and fire the manager but is forbidden from interfering with normal operations or from giving directions to any of the employees who report to the manager.

The problem with Galveston’s charter is that it specifies that’s the way things work — except in a disaster. The emergency powers provision does away with all that at the precise moment when professional management is needed most. The emergency powers provision embedded in both Galveston’s existing charter and in state law has been tried and found wanting.

After a disaster, operations of all city departments are strained. It’s when you need professional, rather than political, management the most. The council ought to adopt the proposed resolution. The legislature ought to amend a bad law.

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