Over the past few years Howell has experienced snowstorms that dumped more than two feet of snow on the ground, two hurricanes and flooding resulting in the need for the Office of Emergency Management to be activated.
In that time Township Manager Helene Schlegel and OEM Director Ron Sanasac were two of the most prominent faces of the township during emergency situations. At last Tuesday's meeting the Township Council approved a restructuring of the office that puts Schlegel as the new coordinator and Sanasac as one of three deputies.
After Tuesday's meeting Schlegel said she did not believe the changes would result in the township handling things differently in emergency situations. "We're just restructuring, just like we've been restructuring every department and taking a look at things we're restructuring," she said. "We'll still remain a fully supporting agency to all our emergency services."
Schlegel will not take any additional salary from the new responsibility. Sanasac is scheduled to make $3,000 in salary as a deputy along with George Gravatt who is also in charge of the Department of Public Works. The manager said Sanasac will be serving as an important part of the agency because "he's obviously a key factor in OEM."
Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro will serve as the liaison to the council as well as a deputy coordinator. Like Schlegel he will also not take a salary for the position. "It just gives a little bit more input from the governing body to the Office of Emergency Management," he said.
Nicastro said as the agency has been used more it has become more important for all the parts of the town to work together. "We have great volunteers in the OEM. They're well trained, they're well prepared, our plans are all set in place," he said.
He also said with such a large town one coordinator was not as effective for the overall operation of the organization. "We realized that for one coordinator it's a lot to do for a town this size with planning, logistics and administration," he said. The three deputies will each play their own role in helping with those specific areas. "It just gives a little more responsibility to everyone instead of just one person."
With Schlegel's experiences Nicastro said it made sense for her to be at the top. "OEM is a management coordination agency. We're not the ones out there fighting the fires or saving people's lives," he said. "Having a manager who has experience running a municipality of this size, it's no different than running any other operation."
Mayor Bill Gotto also said he believed the move would be beneficial for the township. "We're just pulling the talent of the administrative staff and the resources of the manger's office to be able to get back to the function of what OEM really should be and do a better job," he said.
The changes in OEM came just before the council voted to restructure the operations of the Howell Fire Bureau and Gotto said that the two changes are part of what has been a larger process. "Every department in this town has been reviewed and looked at and asked if there's a better way of doing things," he said. "When there's times that we realize that there's better ways to do things and 30 years of history don't adequately address the needs of the citizens today or might not be the correct way of doing things, we have changed them every single time."
Mayor Gotto said Nicastro's role as liaison will be to assist in situations rather than "directing resources," calling him the "planning section chief." He added, "He's the guy that's going to make sure the plans are there, updated, correct, and that when we have an issue that book comes off the shelf and the plan gets executed."
Nicastro said the council is also hoping to encourage more volunteers to help out with the OEM during emergency situations. "We realize government isn't going to be able to help us in major crises and we have to help ourselves," he said. That can be anything from sharing information door to door or cooking meals for other volunteers, he said. "That's one of the things we're hoping for, to get more people involved."
To learn more about the OEM check out its page on the township's website.