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Last week, after the flood waters receded and the clean-up effort began, Emergency Management Director Kenny Blair paid us a visit here at the Enterprise.
Mind you, we had not seen or heard from Blair during the flooding that took place the weekend of May 2. But, on Wednesday, after Blair read the newspaper, he came to our office to inform us that we needed to make a correction. In last week's story about the flooding, we reported that Hayden Johnson, the emergency management deputy director, served as the acting director during the flood. Blair claims that statement isn't accurate, and that he was always the "acting" emergency management director. According to Blair, he was fulfilling his emergency management duties via cellular telephone from Liberty while the waters were rising in Marion County. Blair said he was "in command" the entire time via cell phone and in constant contact with local officials regarding the flood.
How, might we ask, can one serve as an emergency management director and assist in emergency efforts during a flood via cell phone? There is only so much you can do on the phone, especially considering the fact that one of the most affected areas, Bradfordsville, receives little to no cellular service and that is where Blair's deputy director, Johnson, was during the peak of the flood.
Mind you, according to Blair himself, he was trying to get back to Marion County through Columbia, then Somerset, then Boyle County and eventually through the Bluegrass Parkway Sunday afternoon and evening. We don't doubt that Blair had trouble getting home due to the flooding, but we have trouble buying that he was the person who was really in charge during that time.
And, apparently, who is perceived as being "in charge" is a big deal to Blair.
From our perspective and based on what we've heard from citizens and from emergency personnel, it seems as if Blair's assistant, Johnson, handled most of the coordinating, planning and communicating about the flood and rescue efforts.
Johnson drove his personal vehicle throughout the weekend to stay up to date on where the problems were in the county and assisted all the emergency departments in the county. It must be noted that the emergency management vehicle, which Blair quickly referred to as "his" vehicle, was parked in Blair's driveway at his home, he said. And, as luck would have it, he had the only set of keys with him in Liberty. Last Wednesday, Blair said he would get a second set of keys made for Johnson.
We would also like to mention that Johnson, Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly and Lebanon Water Works Superintendent John L. Thomas were the people who kept us informed about the flood situation. We didn't hear from Blair until he walked into our office and said we needed to make a correction.
During our conversation with Blair, it seemed as if he was more concerned with his title of "emergency management director" and getting credit for being such, than with the most important matter at hand - the flood and its aftermath.
We had a similar situation occur with Blair during the ice storm last year. At that time, Chuck Helm was the emergency management deputy director and, in our eyes, he acted as the point man during that entire disaster. Just like last week, Blair complained to the Enterprise after our ice storm coverage, claiming that we should be talking to him, not Helm, because HE was the emergency management director.
Coincidentally, neither Helm nor Johnson seemed interested in getting or taking credit for any of the work they did in either of those situations. So, we find ourselves wondering, why does that seem to be Blair's main concern?
We think it's important for us to point out the obvious - having a "title" and actually doing the work are two totally different things.
And, after thinking about it, we don't see a need for a correction. In our eyes, there is nothing to correct. But, we do feel that a correction of sorts may need to be made by the county. To put it bluntly, we aren't certain the right person is sitting in the right seat. The past two natural disasters we have experienced in Marion County are proof enough to us that the role of emergency management director would be better suited for someone else.
But, nevertheless, we hope during and after future disasters we'll see evidence that our current emergency management director is more interested in getting useful information to the community and doing his job, rather than just seeking credit for what has been done.