Goliad mayor pulls out of emergency agreement

Jon Wilcox By Jon Wilcox

Dec. 17, 2017 at 9:06 p.m.
Updated Dec. 17, 2017 at 9:16 p.m.

From left, Goliad Mayor Trudia Preston and Emergency Management Coordinator Christy Bear.

From left, Goliad Mayor Trudia Preston and Emergency Management Coordinator Christy Bear.   Contributed photos for The Victoria Advocate

Goliad Mayor Trudia Preston won't continue an interlocal agreement for shared emergency management with the county despite her praise for work done during Hurricane Harvey.

"This decision had nothing to do with the performance during Harvey. It had nothing to do with Judge (Pat) Calhoun's performance, which was excellent, and it had nothing to do with (Emergency Management Coordinator) Christy Bear's performance," Preston said. "She is very good at what she does."

Preston notified Goliad officials Nov. 29 that she was ending the agreement that provided emergency management services for the city for the cost of half the interlocal emergency manager's salary.

Christy Bear, who now serves as emergency management coordinator for only Goliad County, said Sunday the mayor's decision was a response to pettiness and unreasonable expectations from city officials and council members.

"It was personal," said Bear, who added she thought Preston did not harbor any malice against her and instead was acting to manage complaints from others on the council.

Bear, who has a bachelor's degree in emergency management administration and almost 15 years of experience in emergency response and communications, said although her title has changed, her commitment to safety has not.

"We will do whatever we have to do," she said.

Although Preston cited savings as one reason for the decision, she did not elaborate further other than to say, "I felt that it was necessary at this time."

Furthermore, the mayor said, she did not consider the about $25,000 budgeted for Bear's services during a yearlong period in 2017 and 2018 a critical amount.

"The money is not the issue," she said. "It certainly was in consideration, but it didn't play a major role in it."

Although the city has ended its contribution for Bear's services, the county will continue her employment on a contractual basis, County Judge Pat Calhoun said.

Bear said that contract pays her $30,000 annually but provides no benefits.

Preston said she hoped to submit an emergency management plan to the Texas Division of Emergency Management for approval by late January or early February. And although the mayor said she planned to hire a replacement for Bear to serve the city, she had no timetable yet for receiving applications.

In the meantime, Preston, who has taken emergency management classes, will serve in Bear's position at no cost to city taxpayers.

"We don't have to watch what we spend, but we do watch what we spend," she said.

Although City Councilman Nathan Lill said he thought the decision was unwise, Preston's position as mayor means she also acts as the city's emergency management director, a position that allows her unilateral power in her decision.

"She has yet to give anyone a valid answer other than, 'I just don't feel the city was represented as well as it should have been,'" Lill said. "She cannot give one example of where anybody failed to do their job."

City Councilwoman Mary Burns said she suspected the decision was made to promote a more city-centric emergency response during future disasters.

"The city management of Harvey could have been done a lot better," Burns said. "We just assumed that was being taken care of because we paid half of her salary."

Bear said that categorization of her work during and after Harvey was false.

"I vehemently disagree with Mary Burns," she said. "It is untrue - bottom line."

Rather, Bear said, restoring utilities inside city limits was a priority. She said she also made gasoline, drinkable water and other resources available for all residents and coordinated donated meals at sites accessible to those living in city limits.

"The majority of the people who came were from the city," she said.

And while Bear said the separation of plans and duties will not drastically affect city and county residents, Lill was not as sure.

"I just don't think we will get the same response with the mayor handling it," he said.

He also said he was concerned that ending the agreement might result in a lack of cooperation and create redundancies in requests for state resources.

As an example, he referred to a shower and laundry center coordinated by Bear's office during Harvey that was made available to city and county residents when potable water was unavailable. If the city and county separate their emergency plans and coordinators, he said, such resources could be available to one population but not the other.

But Burns said despite the ending of the agreement, such a result was unlikely.

"There is no reason on earth that, should we have another disaster, the city can't coordinate with the county," she said.

Calhoun agreed, saying he thought the ending of the agreement would have little effect on residents.

"We will work with them," he said.

But he did add that ultimately, the city will be responsible for disasters that occur on its soil.

Nevertheless, Burns said her faith in Preston's abilities as mayor and emergency management director gave her peace of mind.

"If she didn't think she could do this, she would not have decided to do it," Burns said.



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