A reconstituted Emergency Communications Center board on Tuesday eliminated its currently vacant emergency management coordinator position to allow Albemarle County to hire its own emergency director.
The move means creation of emergency management plans for Albemarle will move from the regional communications center back to the county.
The assistant emergency management coordinator will remain with the Charlottesville-UVa-Albemarle County ECC to act as a liaison between the jurisdictions.
The board also approved creation of a committee to organize and oversee joint efforts at emergency management.
The moves were made at the request of Albemarle County Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Eggleston, who also serves as the ECC board’s secretary.
Eggleston said the county, city and university have very different needs when it comes to developing emergency response and mitigation plans.
He noted that the county sees more natural disasters while UVa and the city have different emergencies related to more urban environments.
“We’ve experienced some significant events in the past few years that have led us to step back and re-evaluate the regional model we currently have,” Eggleston told the board. “We have very different needs, and the current model is not meeting the expectations in our rural areas for mitigation and planning for natural disasters and events.”
Charlottesville Fire Chief and board member Andrew Baxter concurred with Eggleston.
“We in the city also need to look at additional actions in emergency management. What form that is and what the time frame is are up to the city manager and the City Council,” he said.
Baxter said growth pressures are impacting the city, county and university in different ways. He said those pressures have made the decades-old emergency management hierarchy difficult.
“The issues we face are ever evolving, and as the city, county and university change and move in different directions, our preparations for emergencies need to change, as well,” Baxter said.
“No one is interested in abandoning the regional cooperation,” he said. “We’ve seen in the past few years the advantages of working together and the consequences of operating in a silo and not sharing information.”
The Virginia Emergency Services and Disaster Law of 2000 requires each local jurisdiction to have an emergency management coordinator to “prepare and keep current a local or inter-jurisdictional emergency operations plan” for the locality.
Until recently, that was handled by the Charlottesville-UVa-Albemarle Office of Emergency Management division in the Emergency Communications Center and was funded by the city, county and university.
Tuesday’s meeting was one of firsts. It was the first for four new members on the nine-member board and the first for the ECC’s new director, Larry “Sonny” Saxton Jr.
Former UVa Police Chief Tommye Sutton and UVa Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Gloria Graham both left their positions earlier this fall, vacating their slots on the board.
They were replaced by UVa Interim Police Chief Tim Longo, who also serves as interim associate vice president for safety and security, and Tom Harkin, chief of environment of care at the UVa Medical Center.
Leslie Beauregard, a former assistant Charlottesville city manager, left her job to take the assistant city manager’s position in Staunton. That left her board position open, and Albemarle County Assistant Manager Doug Walker’s position opened when he rotated off the board.
The city’s deputy city manager and COO, Letitia Shelton, took over for Beauregard, and Lori Allshouse, director of Albemarle County’s management and budget office, took over for Walker.
Longo took over as chairman of the center board, filling the seat previously held by Graham.
The communications center provides joint dispatching services for police departments, rescue squads and fire crews in the county, the city and the university. It is jointly funded by all three jurisdictions.
Saxton, who started his job in August, is the sixth person to hold the director’s spot since October 2017, when longtime director Tom Hanson retired.
That set off a long search that included one job candidate who declined the job followed by Todd Richardson, the center’s operations director, serving as interim director.
In October 2018, the board hired Barry Neulen as full-time director, but the board membership changed shortly after he came on board. That led to months of contentious disagreement and criticism by new board members during public meetings and reportedly in closed-door meetings held to discuss his performance.
Neulen resigned in March of this year and board member and UVa Executive Director of Emergency Management Tom Berry took over as interim director for about two weeks.
He was followed by Gerald Smith, the center’s senior systems analyst, who served until Saxton’s hiring and then resigned after 19 years with the agency.
Board members on Tuesday indicated they are pleased with Saxton’s performance during the past three months.