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Rochester could get separate emergency manager

By Jeffrey Pieters

jpieters@postbulletin.com

Does Rochester need its own emergency manager, separate from Olmsted County’s?

It’s a question city council members will take up on Monday at their Committee of the Whole discussion meeting. They’ll review a proposal from Police Chief Roger Peterson to appoint Police Sgt. Jon Turk as the city’s first emergency manager. The meeting begins at 3:30 p.m. in Room 104 at City Hall.

Up to now, the city and county have shared the expense and role in managing emergency-response services.

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The relationship changed in mid-September, when the city pulled Turk, the former communications director in the Olmsted Homeland Security/Emergency Management office, from that role. The county will appoint Turk’s replacement.

Turk has been involved in emergency management locally for more than a decade, and he has remained active in that work on the city’s side despite his recent reassignment, said City Administrator Steve Kvenvold.

Turk, in effect, already is the city’s emergency manager, Kvenvold said.

"He’s pretty proficient," Kvenvold said.

Peterson could not be reached Friday afternoon, but in a memo to the city council, he said the city would benefit from having an emergency manager attending strictly to details directly affecting the city.

Peterson said a national doctrine of emergency management holds that cities with populations more than 50,000 — Rochester has nearly double that — warrant having their own emergency czars.

If appointed, Turk’s job would be to coordinate the city’s emergency response plan and all of the other departments’ roles in it. He would represent the city’s interests within the county’s emergency management program and at the Emergency Operations Center; and he would coordinate emergency-related training.

Turk also would oversee functions to do with airport security and homeland security.

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"We’ve got to look out for the city’s welfare, and that’s what I think we’re doing," said Bob Nowicki, who said he supports the switch.

It would not result in additional public cost, Kvenvold said, because Turk already is on the city payroll and doing the job.

The city is responsible for funding two-thirds of the overall cost to run the city and county’s emergency management operation. That overall cost is about $315,000 this year, and the city paid about $210,000.

Despite the city’s pre-eminence in the funding arrangement, the leadership of the department has been predominantly county-based — a situation which led Peterson to say last month that "we were responsible for the bills, but not the management decisions that generated those bills."

City officials, especially council member Pat Carr, were upset over the handling of a decision this summer to hire Sheriff’s Sgt. Terry Waletzki as homeland security director.

Carr also was angry that he and other city officials were not personally informed of several city-county Emergency Management Commission meetings this year.

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