The creation of the Emergency Management Coordinator position and the appointment of Philip Matthews to serve may not have been popular during the Feb. 12 meeting of the Cairo City Council, but Mayor Tyrone Coleman is just happy to get the ball rolling.
Coleman said his desire to have the City of Cairo prepared for a disaster came in 2009, two years into his seat on the council.
“I just saw that there was a need at the time,” Coleman said. The City had a civil defense ordinance, but Coleman said it was nothing tangible. He began attending meetings to put a plan together but said nothing ever resulted, which is why he saw the need to appoint someone to be responsible for the plan.
“We need somebody who can spearhead this,” he said. Coleman said he did not think any of the council members had time to dedicate to this project. Despite heated debate over whether the city needed its own plan and whether it could afford another city job, Coleman stood his ground and said, politics aside, he has a duty as Mayor to protect the citizens of Cairo the best way he can.
“My only concern is the welfare of the residents of this community,” Coleman said.
Philip Matthews has also seen the for some time the City’s need for an emergency plan and has been working with Coleman since he was elected Mayor to draft one. Both Matthews and Coleman said they have seen the City start from square one too many times when disaster strikes, be it a flood, water outage or an ice storm.
“Each time we had to start from scratch because there was nothing in place. People didn’t know what to do,” Coleman said. Education and organization are the first steps in the plan Matthews has helped draft.
“We need to make sure the community is better equipped, better informed,” he said. Matthews explained the first phase of his plan would create little to no financial burden for the City. He said he has plans to work with faith-based groups in Cairo to help distribute literature from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will be provided at no cost to the City. Coleman and Matthews said they also plan on organizing and train block captains as to their responsibilities in a crisis.
Jerry Held, Alexander County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator, said he thinks the City’s effort to become disaster ready is a good thing for the City and the County. Held said if the City is self-sufficient it takes some of the initial burden of a crisis from the County. However, he said the County would be there to help regardless. Matthews said the plan he and the Mayor have worked on is integrated with the disaster plan in place for the County
Though there was the question of Cairo affording Matthews’ position, Coleman said his pay is likely to be small, like that of a special projects person. Matthews said money is not the primary focus for him.
“This is not about money,” Matthews said. “This is about saving lives.”
The Cairo Citizen received an anonymous letter, which cites concerns about alleged incidents from Matthews’ past and how this may affect his ability to serve as Emergency Management Coordinator. When asked about how these allegations might affect his service, Matthews declined to address them outright.
“If that person has a concern, let them come and discuss it with me and the mayor,” he said. Matthews said he chooses to focus on the job at hand.
“My single purpose right now is to ensure we have a viable disaster plan,” Matthews said.
— Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242