'We cannot stand at a podium, say one thing and then reverse the intent of our subject matter experts by pushing contrary agendas,' the letter states.
Leaders in Palm Coast and other local cities have signed a letter appealing to the county to maintain unity in public communication during emergencies, and not allow a situation in which individual officials contradict emergency management experts’ publicly stated directives.
Signatories included the mayors of Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Beverly Beach and Marineland, the administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Flagler County, Palm Coast Fire Chief Jerry Forte, Flagler County Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord, the city managers of Palm Coast, Bunnell and Flagler Beach, and the Flagler County administrator.
The letter mentions the speed at which information travels on social media, and adds, “We appoint leaders who in turn hire the professionals to perform the most difficult task of public service: protecting lives. We cannot stand at a podium, say one thing and then reverse the intent of our subject matter experts by pushing contrary agendas.”
The letter was presented to the Flagler County Commission for discussion at the commission’s May 18 meeting, but most of the commissioners hadn’t read it before the meeting began. (See the full letter at http://tiny.cc/23hfpz.) It does not call out any specific county officials or specific incidents in which officials have pushed contrary agendas.
Commissioner Joe Mullins said he’d read it but was confused, because he’d thought they were working together.
Mullins, who has repeatedly taken to his Facebook page to say he believed the county and local cities were not moving quickly enough to reopen facilities like parks and beaches, proposed a working group to discuss it, mentioning the park situation.
“The way I read that, they’re addressing that they think there’s a problem,” Commissioner Greg Hansen said. “I would like to go one step further and ask … why’d they feel the need to write that?”
“I’m not sure about the genesis of it, but having read it, I have promoted cooperation and unity since I arrived here, and it would be disingenuous of me to refuse to sign a letter like that,” County Administrator Jerry Cameron said. "I don’t see anything in that letter that I see as problematic. ... If there is direction from the board, it would be for us to put together a working group to see what kind of document may ultimately come out of it."
Commissioner Donald O'Brien said he hadn't seen the letter until the meeting began. He didn't see anything objectionable, but wanted to clarify that he would not cede any of his responsibilities as a commissioner.
Commission Chairman David Sullivan, likewise, said he didn't want to turn over decision-making authority to an emergency management team, but otherwise didn't object to the letter.
The commission voted unanimously to sign it.
The text of the letter is below.
Open Letter from Leaders of Flagler County and its Municipalities
In emergency situations or times of uncertainty, it is imperative that communities bring together their subject matter experts to advise and contribute to a centralized emergency manager who is responsible for making decisions, facilitating all the responding agencies and coordinating resolutions for the challenge at hand. We trust these professionals to make decisions for the safety and welfare of us all. They are, unquestionably, working in the best interest of the community they serve and maintain a high-altitude view of the operation free from emotion.
Like many counties in the United States, we have a local emergency program and manager with a qualified team of support staff. An emergency manager is a person who is appointed and is a subject matter expert who is charged with making recommendations and providing the needed direction for the safety of the community. One of the most essential functions of an emergency manager is the ability to clearly and effectively disseminate information and conduct messaging unique and appropriate for each event.
We are in the midst of a global pandemic. In unprecedented times, it is imperative that we respond in a manner that is responsible to the people we represent. Subject matter experts have planned mission assignments, work with state and federal partners for logistical supplies and disseminate factual, timely information for proper response from the Governor’s Office and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Subject matter experts work diligently with the Florida and Flagler branches of the Department of Health to ensure medical processes are in place to protect the community’s most vulnerable. They have built relationships with many stakeholders who are drawn into this process not because they have to, but because it’s the right thing to do. They must have the autonomy to determine, in concert with stakeholders, what a credible plan will be for the community and how it should look over time. This concept is relatively simple — when disseminating information for a disaster, whether pandemic, hurricane, wildfire or mass shooting, we need to be as responsible with the information as we can be.
It is critical that leaders at all levels support subject matter experts to allow them to make the difficult decisions necessary to lead us through the recovery process. As such, we are calling for the unity, calm and courage we know exists in Flagler County. Moreover, we are asking for an adopted unified policy that would clearly articulate the included steps, measures and practices that preclude placing our first responders or the community at large at greater levels of risk. We feel these policies will create the credible path forward, free from unnecessary distractions.
In today’s lightning fast social media environment, where information travels in mere seconds, it is more important now than ever to have a clear adopted policy that will provide opportunity for our subject matter experts to take decisive and credible actions within the adopted context of any particular incident.
As leaders of these first responders, we have a higher responsibility than just making policy. We appoint leaders who in turn hire the professionals to perform the most difficult task of public service: protecting lives. We cannot stand at a podium, say one thing and then reverse the intent of our subject matter experts by pushing contrary agendas.
In closing, the signers of this letter are united and will work together to bring forward one recommended policy beneficial to all governments and in the best interest of the communities we serve. As another hurricane season is upon us, it is more important now than ever that we institute every policy at our disposal to ensure the safety of our first responders. Once adopted, this policy will provide a clear understanding for everyone and will be respected by everyone from policymakers to front line workers. Moving forward, we will all be held to the same standard in times of emergency in our community.
It is our sincere and austere hope you will join us in this unprecedented moment.