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Public hearing set for emergency management changes

haywoodIt’s been a year since the Haywood County commissioners agreed to make changes to the county’s emergency management ordinance to tone down some overbearing language that didn’t sit well with an adamant group of civil liberty watchdogs.

 The proposed update to the ordinance is now available on the county’s website, and the commissioners have scheduled a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 18, at the Haywood County Historic Courthouse to receive feedback on the revised language.

“I think it’s a good document,” said Commission Chairman Mark Swanger. “I feel confident we have a good workable document to move forward with.”

The emergency management ordinance outlines the county’s plan and powers in the event of any major crisis, whether it’s a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. Last February, County Manager Ira Dove said he would begin work on rewriting the ordinance, but the rewrite was to focus only on cleaning up the language for more clarity. 

Commissioner Kevin Ensley said the state also made some revisions to its emergency management statutes in 2012, and the county’s ordinance needed updating to reflect those statewide changes.

Ensley said the rewrite took a bit longer than expected because Dove sent it for review to someone with the Institute of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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“It took several months to make sure it met all the statutes, which they are very familiar with,” Ensley said. “I think some of the questions a few members of the public had have been answered — we toned it down some.”

The ordinance was passed in 2009 without much fanfare, but Republican and Libertarian candidates running for commissioner in 2014 made it a main platform. 

Opponents of the ordinance picked it apart, claimed it gave too much power to the county manager during emergency situations, including the ability to dismiss public officials for failure to obey an order, control all resources (food, materials, services, fuel and wages), and force people off their property. 

Language particularly worrisome to the critics was a section that stated that the county manager had the authority to “perform and exercise such other functions, powers and duties as are necessary to promote and secure safety and protection of the civilian population.”

While that language is broad, critics interpreted that to mean the county manager or anyone he delegates the duty to could confiscate guns from civilians.

Ensley said the current ordinance does not have language allowing the county to confiscate weapons from private citizens. 

“It specifically says firearms are subject to federal and state regulations, so that’s just not true,” he said. “Some took offense to the language in the ordinance, but really it’s there to save lives and protect people’s property.”

In times of emergency — whether it’s a major landslide or a flood like the ones Haywood County experienced in 2004 — it’s important for emergency personnel to be able to access people’s property or keep residents from entering their property to keep them safe. 

The former ordinance stated that the county could purchase, condemn or seize materials and facilities for emergency management “without regard to the limitation of any existing law.” That language was taken out and replaced with language stating the county’s actions must be lawful and allowed under state and federal law. 

The Haywood County Libertarian Party took an official stand against the county’s ordinance, claiming it was unconstitutional. 

“I’m glad that the commissioners have heard the people and begun to reform the EMO, but we as Libertarians believe that there is no situation where the Constitution should be suspended and that especially in a crisis situation the Constitution should reign supreme,” said Jess Dunlap, chair of the Haywood Libertarian Party. “The previous and current EMOs potentially suspend what are considered to be inalienable rights. The sheriff and the commissioners have been adamant that the worst case scenario would never manifest itself — that the people running the show are indeed good people, but who is to say that the next round of folks that gain power would be as noble as the current folks?”

Ken Henson, chair of the Haywood County Republicans, said he hadn’t had a chance to review the proposed language yet but would do so before the April 18 hearing so he could provide feedback. 


Sound off

Haywood County Commissioners will hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 18, at the Historic Courthouse to receive feedback on a rewrite of the county’s emergency management ordinance. 

To read the entire ordinance being proposed, visit

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