By Allen Edmonds
There is a developing sense that some at the top inside Belton’s City Hall consider themselves victims of an unjust siege.
After all, no one could have predicted that Friday morning’s “regular thunderstorm” would have whipped itself into a frenzy capable of leaving a trail of damage comparable to some of the hurricanes we’ve recently witnessed. That means it was clearly also capable of taking lives.
Just because damage was being documented in southern Johnson County, Kan., up to a half-hour before the storm struck Belton is no reason to call out storm spotters, is it? There was no tornado watch, therefore no threat to public safety, right?
And the warning system failure of May 24 in Belton didn’t do anything to cause citizens to question the competence and reliability of a system meant to save lives, did it? Lives like the ones saved in Jefferson City a month ago when a major tornado struck just before midnight, destroying businesses, residences and apartment complexes. The difference there? An early warning system that worked, in combination with spotters in the field and a staffed Emergency Operations Center. Even the EOC was dark and empty in Belton on Friday morning, according to one source. Nothing to see here.
Obviously, there was no sense of urgency to prove things had been fixed. That’s right. No official "tornado watch" issued by the National Weather Service. Follow policy.
Just glad I wasn’t heading out the door to go to work at Springdale Lake, or along Allen Avenue. The lack of a tornado watch wouldn’t have saved me if I’d been under one of those trees or in the way of some of that flying debris (including a freaking 2x12). Spotters in the field might not have been in the right place at the right time to get the sirens sounded either, but at least we would have known the attempt to keep us safe was made – and that’s all we can ask for.
And who could have foreseen the reaction of Belton residents to the failure of city administration’s first attempt at consolidated waste disposal? Apparently not city management.
We’re only in the beginning steps of paying for and correcting that boondoggle.
Or the forced resignation of a fire chief that was born and raised in this community for reasons that are as unclear after the release of the only documentation the city provided Norman Larkey as they were before?
Did we actually pay an attorney to write the letter detailing the results of this “independent third-party investigation?” Or, as has been insisted upon by the mayor and certain city councilmembers, is there really “much more” that wasn’t given to Larkey?
City Manager Alexa Barton has made it clear she’s really tired of talking about the Larkey situation – she’s ready to move on and get off that topic.
Police Chief James Person, who was assigned the additional duty of Emergency Management Director after Larkey’s departure (Larkey had served in that role since Barton decided to eliminate the EM Director’s role in her first budget proposal), had obviously grown weary of criticism after his first severe weather event in that role, tacking this onto an email the following after the May 24 fiasco (a line that even a month later I clearly haven't been able to set aside): “I assure you, and all our citizens that we care about our community’s safety, and will not conspire, withhold, or fabricate information as some have suggested.”
And, he said, that was a situation that just seemed to “pop up,” like Friday morning’s. Never mind that it had been building steadily for hours as it marched across Eastern Kansas, leaving warnings of varying severity in its wake And on that night, the spotters were called out when? Only after the National Weather Service issued its actual tornado warning.
Thankfully, the vast majority of city employees aren’t feeling like they’re under siege right now, according to employees I’ve spoken with.
But it’s obvious there are some – at least among the highest ranks.
We pay Barton $146,216.93 per year, and Person $115,720.80 per year not to be perfect, but to manage effectively.
When things don’t go right, we’re fed up with excuses about “circumstances,” and storms that “pop up” before you have a chance to get spotters in the field.
Serious six-figure managers don’t play the victim card and wonder why they’ve lost the support of the community. Defensive bureaucrats do. Which do we have?