Yesterday, I wondered how Governor Perry would react to the Houston-Galveston Area Council's (H-GAC) cretive interpretation of his executive order to name a single person to manage future catastrophes that may strike the region. Today we find that the answer is that he doesn't much care for it.
"I do not see the wisdom in having 15 people being brought together on a conference call when 1.2 million people's lives are on the line," he said. "I think it makes abundant good sense in those grand, large situations like that to have one individual being able to make a decision on the evacuation of an entire region."
Before the committee approach was adopted, its name was changed from "Unified Area Command" to "Unified Area Coordinating Committee." Some judges and mayors, loathe to give the committee any undue imprimatur of authority, assented to the plan only after the name change.
"I'm not going to delegate my responsibility as a Fort Bend County official to any committee," said Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert.
Added Galveston County Judge James Yarbrough: "This committee is not going to tell me what to do."
[Houston Mayor Bill] White and [Harris County Judge Robert] Eckels both said they expect to reconcile Tuesday's vote with Perry's order.
"If there is a massive regional evacuation, then there needs to be someone that is calling the shots on transportational logistics. That's something we wanted," White said. "With the committee, it can happen before hurricane season begins."
Eckels said he thinks the committee of 15 - as opposed to 10 times as many mayors and judges - can name a single commander soon, albeit not within the timeline of Perry's order.
The inability to choose a single commander for every type of catastrophe, as directed by Perry, arose from discussions with emergency management personnel, who argued that one person might be best for a hurricanes, another for dealing with a bioterrorist attack, Eckels said.
"My expectation is that this committee will now move forward and identify people who will fill those commander roles," he said.
Most public officials denied that discord played any role in their ability to name a single commander for the 13-county region.
Yet it was clear Tuesday that some of the coastal-inland rifts caused by the Rita evacuation have not fully healed. Shortly after Rita, some coastal officials blamed Harris and other inland counties for failing to prevent logjams as residents headed toward San Antonio, Austin and Dallas.
"I already know what to do in my county," Brazoria County Judge John Willy said during the discussion. "What I need help with is areas outside my jurisdiction, where I have no power."
Under Texas law, county judges are a county's top emergency management official. They have the power to call for evacuations but derive their other emergency management powers from the governor. If Perry ultimately finds the committee approach unacceptable, therefore, he could intercede with his own plan.
Local officials, however, don't expect that to happen.