A funny thing happened on the way to the hurricane: My faith in government was restored.
OK, not in all government and certainly not in Congress or the lumbering federal bureaucracy. But local government sure made me more confident about its ability to cope with a serious, widespread, life-threatening emergency such as a hurricane. Local emergency managers and their teams were outstanding. They were staffed up and ready to roll. It turned out to be a dry run, but it was impressive.
So hats off to the thousands of generally unseen, unheralded and un-thanked city and county workers in Miami-Dade and Broward and their cities who quietly, competently did excellent work during the anxiety-ridden days when Matthew was spinning off our shores.
I spent almost all of Thursday from morning well into night at the Broward Emergency Operations Center. I came away impressed by the way roughly 300 administrators from Broward’s 31 cities, the public-school system and Broward County did their jobs. I didn’t hear one person complain about the long hours or say they should be at home with their families or that they’d rather be down at the Elbo Room throwing back a frozen rum drink with a little umbrella at a hurricane party. That may have come later, but not while Matthew was within striking distance.
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Broward Mayor Marty Kiar provided a calming, reassuring voice at the Broward EOC during several televised briefings. Emergency Manager Miguel Ascarrunz and Sheriff Scott Israel were at his side along with a FPL spokeswoman, and they were also effective. They told us everything we needed to know, nothing we didn’t. They didn’t mince words about the storm threat, but were not alarmist.
Still, the people at the EOC who impressed me most were the largely anonymous city and county workers who went about their jobs quietly with skill and commitment. These are government administrators who we in the media often refer to, disdainfully, as “bureaucrats,” as if that were a pejorative.
The “bureaucrats” I met at the Broward EOC give bureaucracy a good name. For example, standing in the chow line I had a great talk with Pat Quinn from the Broward Department of Environmental Protection. He’d been out measuring the county’s beaches before the storm hit and would be out again afterward to measure how much they’d eroded. “You can’t get federal funds for beach re-nourishment,” he told me, “unless you can show how much beach you lost.” A simple truth, but one I’d never thought about. I’m glad Pat and his colleagues did.
In Miami-Dade, Emergency Manager Curt Sommerhoff appears to have had his preparations and staff running well. But why wasn’t he standing next to Mayor Carlos Gimenez at TV briefings? We did see quite a bit of politicians who positioned themselves to get maximum face time even if they had little or nothing to do with storm preparations and response. I’m talking about, among others, state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo. The latter made sure to wear a rain jacket with his name brightly displayed on it. They’re both up for re-election.
Mayor Gimenez did his usual solid job as the county’s chief spokesman. Showy Gimenez is not; credible he is. Between Matthew and Zika, Raquel Regalado hasn’t been able to get a word in edgeways for several weeks. It’s been all Gimenez all the time. That’s not fair to her, but Gimenez didn’t create these crises to enhance his media exposure and reelection chances; it’s just the way the empanada crumbles.
Regalado had a debate with Gimenez on Sunday morning, but didn’t land any serious punches. She might still get around to giving voters a reason to vote for her rather than simply telling them why Gimenez shouldn’t be reelected. But she won’t win by calling out his “daddy issues,” whatever that means, or faulting the mayor for ordering aerial spraying to kill Zika-carrying mosquitoes.
While we’re giving out kudos, let’s give a few to Gov. Rick Scott. He was a whirlwind of activity as Matthew tracked up Florida’s east coast. His daily press releases, which ordinarily list only “staff and call time,” were full of back-to-back phone calls and meetings with mayors, sheriffs, first responders and emergency managers. Scott was up early and out late and gave regular press briefings. He occasionally sounded like an angry father lecturing a teen-ager — “When you’re told to evacuate, you’ve got to get out, people will die” — but that’s a small quibble. Scott used the hurricane template created by Jeb Bush, and it’s still a good one.
Northeast Florida took a hit, but we in South Florida escaped the ravages of Matthew. Still, if we had been hit, our local government apparatus was ready . Good going, bureaucrats. You hear from us when you screw up, so it’s only fair to praise you when you do something right.
This time you did.