“Overwhelmingly Bad” Federal, State, and Local Response to Ike

December 8, 2008

Michael A. Smith writes in The Galveston County Daily News that although we like to blame FEMA for a slow and insufficient response after Hurricane Ike, there’s plenty of blame to go around:

  • The Texas Workforce Commission mailed unemployment checks to people without addresses.
  • The Governor’s taskforce on short-term housing was formed two months after Ike displaced people from their homes.
  • Local governments have repeatedly set roadblocks to the placement of mobile homes on the most easily used sites.
  • Local bureaucracy has at times irrationally stood in the way of business recovery.

Add to that the overly-stringent rules which required Galveston residents to get building permits to replace drywall in their own homes, even though inspectors were only planning to do “spot-check” a comparative handful of houses.  Add to that Texas City, La Marque, and other towns prevented or delayed people from having FEMA-provided trailers on their own property.

Not to be overly bleak: Yes, many people are starting to move back into their homes while rebuilding, and others are starting to move into trailers.  Yes, businesses are reopening, especially on the Seawall, and they’re starting to come back downtown.  On the other hand, public housing residents must appeal to a neighboring Congresswoman to be their voice, while their own Representative is AWOL.  Renters face an uncertain future.  Thousands have just been laid off from UTMB, the Island’s largest employer, following what appears to have been an illegal closed-door meeting by the UT Board of Regents.

The red tape and small-mindedness is reflects a business-as-usual mindset, when an emergency-oriented response is still called for.  Some people are sleeping in tents, and nighttime temperatures down into the 30s.  Others are crammed a dozen or two dozen into the homes of friends or relatives.  No one thinks this is an acceptable situation.  Yet, somehow the combination of decisions made and actions taken (or not) by persons at all levels of government create a situation that no one wants.

If only we could clone Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.  Judging by their performance in and after the crisis, an army of White’s and Emmett’s could shake things up and cut through the crap enough to do what has to be done.

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