Commission rescinds media policy

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By Nick Johansen

The Montgomery County Emergency Management Commission has voted to rescind policy made regarding media communications protocol.

At that May 31 meeting, the commission approved a motion that any time the civil defense or outdoor warning sirens sound, EMA or whoever was serving in Brian Hamman’s place make a notification to KCSI in regards to why the sirens were sounding, and information on the perceived threat, or if a lighting strike activated a siren accidentally, and for any other perceived threat to the public, pending review of existing protocol and the EMA coordinator job description, and to incorporate it into the job description. The motion passed by a 4-1 vote, with Stanton Representative Kirk Requist voting no.

Following the decision, the commission was sent a letter by KMA Radio, based in Shenandoah and serving multiple Southwest Iowa counties, including Montgomery County, expressing their concerns with the policy, stating that in crafting the policy, they understood the first concern of the commission was for the safety of the public, but stating that by choosing an individual radio station to get information given to them rather than having to request it, was showing favoritism. KMA’s letter went on to say that they felt the more prudent approach was to adjust the policy so that local officials only respond to media when they were contacted.

At the commission meeting June 28, the policy was brought under review by the commission members. Commission member Kirk Requist felt the bylaws were written so that the policy approved by the commission was unnecessary.

“I emailed all the bylaws out, and within seconds, I saw right on the job description, at number six, he’s got notify the media. In the bylaws it says the same thing,” Requist said.

Commission member Brad Wright said he felt the policy was not contradictory to the bylaws, and supported what was in place. Requist felt the policy approved by the commission did not support those bylaws.

“It does not support it, because it designates it only to KCSI, that’s what the motion was, and that is not in the bylaws. In the bylaws it says he will notify the media. That’s why we have a letter from KMA, we also got a phone call from KSOM,” Requist said.

Commission member Greg Vetter said if storm sirens were sounding, people of course wondered what was going on, but ultimately if a storm siren was going off, that meant take cover.

“Anyone can turn into any number of media sources at that point and find out the situation, and in my feeling, that’s the important part. Having Brian Hamman specifically have to call one media outlet to tell them that that’s what it is, that information is already out there for the most part, I don’t think we should limit ourselves,” said Vetter.

After rereading the motion, Wright said it was his interpretation was that the commission did nothing that contradicted in any way his job description or the bylaws.

“It’s within the confines of that. The action that was taken does not contradict anything,” Wright said.

Amos said he agreed with Vetter, and felt that the decision should have been left up to Hamman as the director, but questioned whether the policy needed to be removed.

“The only thing that has been asked is to back up, when possible, why the storm sirens are going off. I agree it’s over the top and I don’t think it needs to be done, but if it comforts people, is that too much to ask that we do that?” Amos asked.

Requist said he had received comments from several people who said they did not listen to KCSI, and only listened to KMA, or KSOM, and the policy eliminated them, even though they had the same information as everyone else.

Vetter said in the past, in the event a media source called Hamman to find out information, he took the calls as he was available.

“Why do we have to throw that responsibility on Brian? Why don’t we put that on the people that want that information? Public safety is our main concern, and we want to do everything we can to protect people in the event of some kind of incident,” commented Vetter.

Wright said as they reviewed the bylaws and job description, the number one purpose of the commission was to establish protection of lives and property in the time of emergency, and to him, the action the commission took was to try and reinforce that.

“It was saying, Brian put that on the top of your priority list, we’ve got to get word out to the public in every way we can. No, I don’t expect him to make 14 phone calls, but as I said at the earlier meeting, if there’s one phone call to make that I think reaches more people, certainly in Red Oak, and probably in Montgomery County, and until another media station proves I’m wrong, my belief is that there’s probably more people that tune into KCSI at the time of weather, than anybody else,” Wright said.

Wright reiterated that he didn’t think the commission did anything wrong with their action, and he stood by it. Hamman expressed some concerns that the policy could spark more criticism.

“If we have this policy, and I’m in a portion of the county where nothing is happening, and something bad happens in another part of the county, I may not get a call into the radio station, because I either don’t know about it or I’m not in the area. I think that could lead to more criticism or issues with people down the road,”

Requist made a motion to rescind the approved policy, and have committee review the bylaws and the job description, and make any recommendations or changes. The motion passed by a 3-2 vote, with Wright, representing Red Oak, and Amos, representing the Board of Supervisors voting no.

Hamman stressed that his phone is always on, and he was always available by email for everyone, including the media, the EMA commission, or the public.

“I’m available all the time. Anyone can call with questions and concerns,” Hamman said.

Amos said while voting no, he supported the decision of the commission, and what changes come down. Wright said his takeaway from the meeting was that the decision to remove the policy was based on the fact that requirements to work with the media are already in Hamman’s job description and the bylaws.