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The Stevens Point Municipal Airport on Sept. 19. (Metro Wire photo)

City considers re-establishing emergency manager role

By Brandi Makuski

City leaders plan to resurrect the role of the emergency manager.

The personnel committee on Monday approved assigning emergency manager duties to an existing role within city government, followed by finance committee approval for funding $12,000 annually to whoever takes on the set of responsibilities.

The position would also have access to a $5,000 annual budget for training/professional development and materials.

Personnel Director Lisa Jakusz said the city was experiencing a “shortfall” in the coordination of resources during emergency situations.

“We have a police chief, we have a fire chief, we have a director of utilities and transportation, who manage their employees…we need someone reaching over that,” Jakusz said. Having a dedicated employee responsible for handling emergency management, she said, would allow the city to coordinate training events crossing multiple departments, and identifies one person who can apply for emergency management-related grants.

The city eliminated its full-time emergency manager in 2014 due to budget cuts. The role was previously held by Sally McGinty, who not only coordinated city resources during emergencies but also oversaw the Stevens Point police dispatch center. The latter set of duties was eliminated from the role when city dispatch merged with Portage Co., creating one communications center overseen by the county in late 2014.

After the role was eliminated, EM duties were taken on by former Public Works Director Scott Schatschneider. When he left the city in 2015 for work in the private sector, the duties were loosely taken on by Mayor Mike Wiza.

Police Chief Martin Skibba said since McGinty’s position was eliminated, his department has relied on Portage Co. Emergency Management for some help but added the county can only do so much.

“When an incident is occurring, fire needs to be out there, police need to be out there, utilities, parks, all of those,” Skibba said on Monday. “This is where it’s important, where there’s that one person to go to, makes the call, organizes it, and focuses what’s needed. We think this is a good step going in that direction, as we have not had someone in quite a few years.”

On Tuesday, Wiza said he’s got one person in mind to take on the duties.

“The logical choice right now, and one I think I’d recommend at this point, would be the airport manager,” Wiza said. Jason Draheim, who’s managed the Stevens Point Municipal Airport since 2010, has administrative experience, is already familiar with the city’s various departments, and was a United States Marine for five years.

“Arguably, the EM should not be instrumentally involved in other aspects of an emergency—you want someone detached,” he said. “Having Scott [Schatschneider] do it was crazy; almost any emergency, public works [department] is going to already be heavily involved.”

Wiza said it also makes no sense to place the duties on the fire or police chiefs because they, too, already have enough to deal with during an emergency, and an objective third party would be most valuable in the role.

An emergency manager would help ensure continuity of city government during an emergency, such as a natural disaster. The EM would be the point of contact for other local governments and agencies like UW-Stevens Point, ensure emergency preparedness compliance with state and federal laws, and help develop and maintain emergency plans and procedures for the city.

Skibba, and Fire Chief Robert Finn, along with other department heads, agreed a dedicated EM was so important that they agreed to push off start dates for new personnel by one month so the city could afford to fund the role. Finn told the personnel committee that department heads “worked as a team” for about six months to reach that solution.

City Treasurer Corey Ladick said to fund the position in 2021, the city may forego annual one-percent increases for budget line items such as office supplies and mileage in each department.

“It’s not something we want to do every year because we do want to make sure we preserve the buying power of the budget over time, but understanding the need, that’s something the department [heads], as a team, agreed to,” Ladick said.