Dorchester County will have an emergency management director. It will not, however, fill the emergency planning position, which is now frozen.
Prior to tonight’s council meeting, Bailey told two different media four different personal stances on the subject. First, he wanted to eliminate the two open positions of director and planning, and despite state code that requires them. Later, he said he recognized their need and would vote for their approval. Shortly after, Bailey said he hoped to merge the position of emergency director with that of county fire coordinator. And just hours after that last claim, he told another reporter that he wanted the positions to be separate and full-time.
This left everyone, even the same media with whom he spoke, unsure of what his true goal was. But all that evasive fuzziness met a sharp blade when Bailey, serving as chair at tonight’s county council meeting, called the issue to vote. Dorchester County Council (which has only one Democrat on its seven-member roster) approved leaving the emergency planning job vacant.
But being without vital staff our county needs to address emergency situations isn’t really a problem, according to Bailey. First of all, he noted, the position hasn’t been removed – it’s only “frozen.” (Either way, it means the position is vacant, of course, but that’s no big deal, according to Bailey.)
Second, he explained, the county did not include the salary of that position in its budgetary plans earlier this year, and thus can’t afford it. (I’d openly accept that argument were it not that it seems to have been overlooked on purpose. Moreover, less than a half-dollar per county resident per year would more than fund the salary of the “frozen” position.)
But the most prominent reason to feel secure despite this absence of that vital position of emergency planner, he told me himself, is – God.
After the county council meeting was over, Bailey told me personally that the position didn’t need filling because, in the event of any emergency such as the hurricanes and earthquakes our county is always at risk to, “we can always hope and pray.” (He offered a warm smile with that statement.)
That method has worked for Bailey himself, he said. (Apparently, he slept through 1989’s Hurricane Hugo. And the tremors that have been hitting Summerville lately must have been too far from his home for him to notice.)
And he delivered these lines to me personally with such swash – such projection and emotion – that I still wonder why this guy never wound up in Hollywood.
I tried to redirect the topic back to one of relevance. Our county had very rapid growth in the last decade, when Summerville alone was ranked in the Top 20 fastest growing cities in the nation. Still, we had no true road or highway development during that same time, resulting in horrendous traffic jams.
I used one local intersection as an example. When Butternut Rd was first paved about 30 years ago, only five homes were upon that street. Today, though, recent traffic counts at the corner of Butternut and Orangeburg Rds exceed 10,000 vehicles daily. Yet, we must rely on the same slender, two-direction road with only stop signs to control the traffic, which every day at rush hour backs up to block the nearby fire station.
“If the fire department needs to provide emergency response at the wrong time of day, we’re fried,” I told Bailey, “because the fire engines can’t even leave the station due to traffic.
“And if we need to evacuate due to an emergency, we’ll never get out of our neighborhood.”
Someday, we’ll get a traffic light at that corner, Bailey promised. And until then, we can always “hope and pray,” he reiterated, and with the same B-movie actor delivery.
Right after that angle of conversation, Bailey’s record of flip-flop and changing stories continued.
“Our first goal was to save money,” Bailey told me. But the original proposal to eliminate the emergency management director position had little monetary relevance to the county, he next admitted: “most of the money [for the position] comes from FEMA,” and thus didn’t require elimination. (So why did you introduce the elimination of that director position to begin with, George?)
What I wanted to tell Bailey next, and tensely refrained from, was the old adage of a man who refused to evacuate his home despite recommendation, and because God would save him, he said. And when a boat came to claim him from his later flooded home, he refused to leave – because God would save him, he said.
When he stood before the gates of Heaven after his subsequent drowning, this same man was told directly by God, “I sent you an evacuation message … I sent you a boat…”
Bailey’s “hope and pray” message was apparently just a political slogan. He thought he could misdirect the topic to one of a pseudo-religious righteousness. But he continued to overlook the actual topic in the process, and very deliberately, too.
It made me next picture Bailey’s own personal day of calling – “I gave you FEMA coverage for the position,” God could say to him. “I gave you every opportunity to employ a Traffic Impact Fee …”
But what we voters need to tell Bailey right now, and before our very own days of calling, is we want full and proper emergency planning.
This is where I have to come clean and admit personal bias in this story. Almost six years ago, I evacuated my previous hometown of New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina.
I left my home street in my very developed home town, and to reach a four-lane highway to enter a six-lane interstate. I then spent the next 14 hours on wide interstates in search of a stopping point (less than 400 miles away) to care for the elderly and disabled in-laws I brought with me. (By the way, I was hoping and praying throughout most of that very long journey.)
If I were in the same evacuation circumstance here from my Dorchester County home, which has fewer roads with fewer lanes – not to mention fewer options to plan for such circumstances –I anticipate it would take me twice as long to get half the distance. And that we’d be at risk of losing twice as many lives, too.
So where’s the good in all that Bailey has been proposing all along?
George Bailey can make every attempt to word it very differently each and every time he speaks on the subject, but he needs to be upfront with all of us from the get-go. No pseudo-religious and mis-directional messages.
Bailey, you can misword it and rephrase it as many times as you want to, but we Dorchester County voters are on to you. And we’ll evacuate you from your office as soon as possible, too, just like we did before.