Carroll emergency board faces changes

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — In the past, Carroll officials clarified that the county's Emergency Services Board cannot overturn the suspension of a volunteer without further action of the supervisors.

At last Monday's meeting, the supervisors clarified all the duties of an ESB member.

In fact, Carroll officials at their regular January meeting made several changes to the ESB's responsibility in an effort to clarify that group's mission for the county.

Among those changes was the stressing the “advisory” nature of the committee by adding that word to its title.

Over the holidays, staff members wrote a new description for the board that includes citizens, one representative each from fire and rescue, county officials and two county supervisors, County Administrator Gary Larrowe explained at the Jan. 11 supervisors' meeting.

The redefined purpose for the ESB is to give advice and recommendations to the director of Carroll's emergency services. A variety of citizens would participate by offering their perspectives on emergency services activities.

The new description narrowed the planning and policy responsibilities down to those involving "facilities, technology, vehicles and equipment."

The director of emergency services would review the board's suggestions and pass them along to the county administrator and the supervisors for possible action.

The new description cut the ESB back from meeting every month to meeting quarterly, with the new schedule beginning in March.

Conspicuously absent from the ESB's duties is reviewing personnel issues. Suspended fire and rescue volunteers once had the option of appealing their case to the ESB as well as the county supervisors.

Given the chance to discuss the proposed changes, Supervisor Manus McMillian — one of the two elected officials on the ESB — recalled that when the supervisors first took office they agreed to develop job descriptions for county positions, which includes the ESB.

"One thing that needs to be kind of highlighted and underscored is that it is an advisory board..." he said.

Supervisor Andy Jackson, the other elected official on the ESB, agreed. To him, it seems there wasn't a clear outline of what the ESB's objective was from the beginning, and he thinks it caused a lot of confusion.

Jackson didn't see any reason the advisory board should get into personnel matters. That should be left to the board of supervisors.

He didn't see many reasons to meet monthly, either, and thought quarterly meetings would be sufficient.

"I wondered for the last six months why we was meeting so often with no new business," Jackson said, expressing his support for quarterly meetings. Extra meetings could always be called.

Supervisors should go ahead and implement these changes, so everybody could know exactly what was expected of them, Jackson said. It will be in writing and clear, so nobody has to assume anything.

In response to questions from Supervisor Sam Dickson, Larrowe explained that he, Emergency Services Director Joe Roma and Kathy Surratt, who's working on insurance billing matters, wrote the new description of duties.

Larrowe had wanted to take this idea to ESB Chairwoman Debbie Brady Goad, but he didn't think it was appropriate because she recently had a death in the family.

Dickson couldn't think of any other commission or board that met quarterly. If there's nothing to discuss, a board could always cancel a meeting.

"We evidently have a problem in the emergency services department," Dickson said. "It's pretty obvious because things seem to be going wrong."

If Carroll County's going to have an emergency services board, they need to be able to do something, Dickson added. Otherwise, why would the county need a board at all?

As the result of a wide-ranging discussion of fire and rescue volunteers at an ESB meeting last year, the rescue captains and fire chiefs have agreed to go back to meeting monthly on emergency issues, Larrowe said. The ESB replaced that meeting, because there was a feeling a separate board that included citizens was needed for input.

Dickson seemed to doubt this new description would resolve the outstanding issues. "I don't know whether we can address the concerns with this. Maybe when they meet in March or whatever it can be decided."

Meeting on a quarterly basis is not unlike what the tourism committee does, Larrowe answered.

If more meetings are needed, they could always call special meetings, several county officials noted.

Jackson made a motion to approve the changes, and McMillian seconded it.

If something like this description had been put in place at the beginning, there wouldn't be so much confusion, Jackson said. "Not having the information, I feel like, is a major cause of the confusion."

In the vote, all supervisors voted yes — even Dickson. Some meetings are better than none, he explained.