By David F. Rooney
Pushed by difficult financial circumstances, the City has decided not to renew Simon Hunt’s $22,000 contract as its Emergency Response Coordinator.
Hunt’s contract expires on December 31. A public announcement will not be made until sometime on Friday, December 20.
As the ER Coordinator, Hunt provided an overall role coordinating the local emergency response to any disaster.
Chief Administrative Officer Tim Palmer said the decision was made for financial reasons.
“We were satisfied with the state of Simon’s performance,” Palmer said during an interview on Thursday morning, December 19.
“We’re being pushed everywhere and every dollar counts. The question we faced was: ‘Can we provide the same service for equal or less money?’”
He said the City staff are certain it can do the same job for less. Who will be tapped to provide that service will be one focus of Friday, December 11’s, announcement.
Mayor David Raven had this to say about the decision: “This is an opportunity for cost savings for the city by utilizing current staff. The emergency planning and coordination work will be added to the job functions of staff who have the experience and ability to ensure public safety and preparedness for the city and regional district.”
Councillor Phil Welock — chairman of Council’s Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Security — was not available to discuss this decision. However, Councillors Chris Johnston and Steve Bender, who are both on that committee, did have comments to make.
Johnston said, “There’s a whole bunch of people” within the ranks of City Hall who can do what Hunt was doing through his contract.
“Remember the Big Iron Shootout Avalanche a couple of years back?” he asked, referring to a large avalanche in March 2010 that was initially believed to have swept over 200 people (click here to read The Current’s story on that event). “Between the police, the fire department, the SAR guys and the helicopter pilots it all got sorted out.”
Even Simon Hunt believes the City can identify the person with the right set of skills to replace him.
He said in an interview on Thursday afternoon that he has complete confidence in the ability of a City staffer to replace him.
Some people who had heard about City’s decision feared it might have dire repercussions if a Lac Megantic-style runaway train loaded with hazardous goods exploded in the CPR rail yard and wiped out a significant portion of the downtown.
But Hunt said the results of a large-scale test involving a scenario whereby the city was cut in two by a hazardous chemical spill at the Illecillewaet Bridge showed him that the level of competent responses by participating agencies was very high.
“We brought all of our collective minds together and it worked, beautifully,” Hunt said.
Simon took pains to re-assure anyone in town who might think this would have a terrible financial impact on his family circumstances. Hunt, previously employed full time as Parks Canada’s forest fire-management specialist was made a seasonal employee this year. The part-time contract with the City was welcome, he said, but he and his wife Pauline, who has Lou Gehrig’s Disease, have worked out a strategy that allows them to continue meeting their financial responsibilities as a family with two young girls as well as their contractual obligations to the Kelowna Habitat for Humanity and the Revelstoke Community Housing Society, which had organized the complete renovation of their house on Sixth Street East.
“We’re okay,” he said.
Hunts remains active in the local emergency-management sector through his involvement in the wildfire response committee and says the parting of ways between him and the City was amicable enough that at some point he might yet be reappointed as Revelstoke’s Emergency Response Coordinator.