Emergency managers rip Governor Rick Scott’s rankings of counties

Aug 1, 2012

The following article was published in The Palm Beach Post on August 1, 2012:

Emergency Managers rip Governor Rick Scott’s Rankings of Counties

By Dara Kam


TALLAHASSEE —Governor Rick Scott’s office has finalized the grading of county emergency management offices, giving all but two of the state’s 67 counties “exemplary” scores.

One emergency manager who received a perfect score called the project “a completely flawed system” and “a waste of time.”

The results are not yet available to the public, but Palm Beach County officials said they learned about the grades Tuesday in a telephone call from a regional emergency management official.

Despite repeated public records requests by The Palm Beach Post since early July for a survey used in the project or the results, Scott’s office refused to provide the county ratings or the questionnaire itself. The Post obtained a copy of the survey, sent to county officials on July 20, from a county emergency manager.

Palm Beach County Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson said he learned Tuesday that his county and all but two others – Walton and Bradford – received exemplary scores.

Whether state Division of Emergency Management Director Brian Koon intends to rank the counties is unknown.

But even those with high grades questioned the process.

“If all 65 counties were ranked exemplary, I don’t know what the purpose was. That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Palm Beach County Assistant Administrator Vince Bonvento said. “I just don’t know what the impact of that score is.”

Koon launched the project this year over the objections of the county managers. Many of the local officials were wary about the timing of the exercise, coming in hurricane season and slated to be released two weeks before the Aug. 14 primary election.

The emergency officials’ association asked Scott’s administration to terminate the project, but Koon refused. He said in June he intended to either rank the counties or assign letter grades or “smiley or frowny” faces.

The survey sent to county officials on July 20 was a pared-down version of a 106-question sampler that drew their wrath.

Scott dropped a ranking of the state’s supervisors of elections this year. That controversial survey included extra credit for supervisors who turned the forms in early. Last month, Scott’s administration also ranked the state’s 67 county health departments.

Koon said in June that the goal of the exercise was to pinpoint weaknesses in emergency management and response and to highlight best practices in some counties that other agencies could adopt.

But the final survey did nothing to help strengthen disaster response, said Seminole County Emergency Manager Alan Harris, who received a perfect score on the survey and an accompanying capability analysis, required by law to be performed every five years.

He called the grades a waste of time.

“The questions are fine for a basic program. But the understanding was that we were going to get something out of this that was going to be best practices that we could strengthen our programs,” Harris said. “There’s no question in here that even comes close to doing anything like that.”

Harris was one of seven regional representatives on the project work group but walked away from it last month. At least one other member also quit the group.

Some county officials complained that the purpose of the project was unclear and that the final questions did not measure their performance as they were told to expect.

“I question whether the goals as presented were met through this process,” Johnson said.

Seventy-five percent of the final grades will come from the capability assessments and responses to the questionnaire will make up the other 25 percent, according to an e-mail sent to county officials by Eric Rosenberg, a state emergency department official who headed the grading project.

One of the survey questions asks if the county has a dedicated website or web page that’s regularly updated.

“It’s nice that we have websites and web pages. But half the questions shouldn’t even be asked and the other half are already covered in some kind of document,” Harris said. “It’s still I would say a completely flawed system and I don’t know that it did anything except waste a whole bunch of people’s time.”

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