Haywood candidates take sides on emergency management ordinance
Six candidates are vying for three seats in the Haywood County commissioners race. They fall in two tidy camps when it comes to their views on the county’s emergency management ordinance, making the issue a quick study for voters.
When passed in 2009, the emergency management ordinance was a sleeper, a bunch of government legalese that few paid attention to other than the emergency services workers who actually think about things like FEMA money and disaster declarations.
But it has recently become a rallying cry for critics of county government who claim the ordinance sets the stage for an authoritarian abuse of power and government subjugation of citizens in the name of emergency response.
County commissioners have dismissed the claims as radical conspiracy theories, and maintain the ordinance is needed to protect the public in the event of disaster.
That sums up the stance of the three current commissioners running for reelection. All Democrats, they say the fears over the emergency management ordinance are unfounded doomsday mongering.
Michael Sorrells, Democrat
The ordinance is designed to keep people safe and help the rescue workers and officers tasked with public safety do their jobs.
The notion that the ordinance will be used to suppress people, seize their food, occupy their homes, take their guns, or sequester them is off-base.
“We live in a civilized society. We live in a democracy. Haywood County especially is a very safe place to live. If we can’t trust the government who can we trust? The boogeyman is not coming to get you.”
Yes, the ordinance allows the county to enter people’s property without permission, because that would be critical in the event of a flood. Rescue workers evacuating an area ahead of rising flood waters would need to enter homes and make sure no one is being left behind. Or if there is a landslide, and the only way to reach victims inside buried homes is crossing someone’s private yard, you can’t wait around to get permission from that property owner.
“We won’t have a riot in Haywood County, but what if we did have a riot, if you can’t limit who is on the street and who can be out with weapons, how will the police know who the bad guys are?”
The elements of the ordinance are based on legitimate needs in a time of emergency, not crazy scenarios.
“There is fear out there that something bad is going to happen. To me, I’m sorry, but I don’t have that feeling.”
Kirk Kirkpatrick, Democrat
“I think it is a tool that we need. It is there to help the people of the county. It is not there to hurt. It is not there to restrict their rights.”
Having an ordinance at the ready means the county can quickly mobilize and respond, unfettered by red tape. He sees no problem with the county commissioner chairman unilaterally declaring a state of emergency, the first step in getting FEMA help.
“It is also a way to bring federal funds into the county by declaring a state of emergency. You don’t have time to call a meeting of the county commissioners to decide.”
Kirkpatrick dismissed post-apocalyptic scenarios where county government is pitted against citizens, or the notion that the emergency management ordinance will be used as cover to take people’s food and guns or occupy their homes.
“The likelihood of that happening is about the same as an asteroid taking out Waynesville.”
Bill Upton, Democrat
“I think our overall purpose in this ordinance is to save lives and protect property. You can lose lives if you don’t act quickly. If you do away with it, what do we do in an emergency? Who is in control? Where are the services coming from? I think lives would be lost.”
There’s a reason that the ordinance suspends normal rules of business. For example, the county manager’s spending limit is lifted, allowing him to spend even large sums without commissioner approval.
“If we need a couple of helicopters in here to pull people out, we don’t have time to call a meeting and get the money necessary to procure those helicopters.”
Upton understands concerns that people may have to fend for themselves if society was wiped out by nuclear war or a fatal infectious disease. But at that point, county government won’t be invading people’s private bunkers to get their food stores.
“You are talking about an extreme disaster that would bring about the end of mankind and civilization as we know it. They might be attacked, but it wouldn’t be Haywood County trying to get in,” Upton said.
Upton said fears that guns would be taken away from citizens is now moot, because the state legislature passed updated emergency management language last year spelling out that people can’t be restricted from possessing legal firearms even in declared emergencies. Upton said it would be worth updating Haywood’s ordinance to reflect the language change.
“An ordinance is a work in progress.”
Whoa, not so fast
Challengers in the Haywood commissioner race see the emergency management ordinance as a dangerous precedent that unwinds the Bill of Rights.
Denny King, Republican
“An ordinance says what it means. The commissioners have had ample time to revoke this ordinance, and have chosen to keep it, so I have to assume they may use it in the future.
“The county ordinance indicates that during an emergency the county manger could take anything you own ‘without regard to the limitation of any existing law.’ This ordinance is written outside the rule of law, which jeopardizes the established rights and freedoms of the people in Haywood County.”
King believes the language in the ordinance speaks for itself, if people took the time to read it. He pointed out some of the egregious sections that bestow unreasonable powers to the county manager or emergency services director in times of emergency.
• Dismiss any public official for willful failure to obey an order.
• Establish a system of economic controls over all resources, materials and services to include food, clothing, shelter, fuel, rents and wages.
• Regulate and control the congregation of persons in public places.
• Buy, condemn or seize whatever is needed to construct, transport, store, or distribute materials and facilities for emergency management without regard to the limitation of any existing law.
Windy McKinney, Libertarian
The emergency management ordinance is an abuse of power and tramples on civil liberties.
“This is one example of how they aren’t engaging with people, they are sliding these things in. They are representing the government instead of representing the people.”
If you read the ordinance closely, it gives the county powers to come into your house without permission and take your stuff. They could take your guns in the name of preventing riots and revolutions. They could requisition equipment for their own purposes, be it cars, machinery or computers.
Or they could take your stockpiled food and redistribute it to the masses. And that’s not fair to the preppers who have been proactive in amassing food and survival equipment to wait out a societal collapse or disaster, according to McKinney.
“They have spent a lot of time and money to make sure their families will be provided for. All that would be negated. The people who were prepared aren’t prepared anymore because the government redistributed all their goods.”
They could even occupy your house into a command center — anything in the name of public safety.
“In the Bill of Rights, you are not supposed to have to shelter or quarter any soldiers.”
And further, the ordinance says you can restrict movement of citizens.
“I think it is very cavalier to think that it is OK to suspend the Bill of Rights at their call. That is what our country is founded on. You can’t just go and throw it away. It is a slippery slope.”
McKinney said an alternative would be to work with the public to develop an emergency management ordinance that puts the people, not the government, at the center. A working group of the Haywood Libertarian Party have drafted an alternative version of the ordinance at www.thehaywire.org/a-libertarian-alternative-to-the-unconstitutional-emergency-management-ordinance.
Phillip Wight, Republican
“I think it is an overreach of government. In my opinion it is un-American. It speaks to the arrogance of the county government leadership we are running against. They have allowed that type of wording to stand against our own people. The language is terrible. When you read it it is appalling. It is an affront to the people.”
Even though the county claims the extreme measures in the ordinance would never be invoked, that begs the question: why have them? If there’s a landslide, and the county needs heavy-equipment to dig out victims, they won’t need to invoke and ordinance to seize the machinery. Citizens will step up, and don’t need to be ordered to do so by the government.
“We all hope we are going to be neighbors anyway. In the name of disaster we are all going to be working together anyway.”