How state offices fared under a ‘state of emergency’
Friday, February 22, 2013
The snow started falling in Jefferson City shortly before 8 a.m. Thursday.
By 9:50 a.m., Gov. Jay Nixon had declared a statewide “state of emergency,” activating the Missouri State Emergency Operations Plan, which allows state agencies to coordinate directly with local jurisdictions to provide emergency services.
Nixon noted that citizens who need disaster information, shelter information and referrals are urged to call 211 — a service available in most areas of the state.
The governor said citizens may call 800-427-4626, in areas where the 211 service is not operational.
By 9:30 a.m. — 20 minutes before the state of emergency declaration — state government had invoked its “Hazardous Travel Policy,” allowing non-essential employees to stay home or leave work early, by agreement with their supervisor.
“There’s no way to tell how many state employees are late/not at work/leaving early today to use the travel policy,” Scott Holste, Nixon’s spokesman, said Thursday afternoon. “That answer wouldn’t be known until leave slips are processed, etc.”
No buildings had to be closed because of the storm, he added.
“State operations within the executive branch continued for the most part,” Holste said.
Because of its bad weather responsibilities, the state’s transportation department has its own, separate travel policy that “mimics the state’s policy,” said Beth Wright, MoDOT’s state maintenance engineer. “We do have several employees who are able to work remotely, if they are non-essential to the snow-clearing effort.”
At the same time, Wright said, “Significant portions of the district offices shift their (normal) operations to assist with winter operations.
“For instance, the folks who work in construction and materials — who might be doing surveying work or finishing the final plans for the construction season — shift and assist the road operations.”
Many of those employees have been trained to operate the heavy equipment used in road operations, Wright said, or they provide “additional support in loading trucks or answering customer service calls.”
This time of year, lawmakers usually work at the Capitol through mid-day on Thursday.
But House and Senate leaders decided Tuesday to cut the week short.
“I was the guy who kept us in (two years ago) when we had the 25 inches of snow, so I told the majority leader ‘If you want somebody to stand up and say we need to get out of here, I’ll do it,’” Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Two years ago, most lawmakers already were in town when a two-day storm dumped around 2 feet of snow on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
Legislative leaders at first tried to do their regular work.
But, with travel in Jefferson City next-to-impossible, they ended that week’s work on Wednesday morning, so that lawmakers could get back to their homes.
With that in mind, Senate Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, told reporters Wednesday: “I don’t want anyone to be here, including you all, if this weather kicks in like it did some time ago.
“It’s just not worth it to get someone in harm’s way.”
Officially, Missouri’s courts stayed open Thursday.
“The Supreme Court is open per its regular schedule ... though it is operating with a reduced staff,” communications counsel Beth Riggert said — in an e-mail sent from her Columbia-area home, because she didn’t travel to her Jefferson City office.
“I’ve seen notices from our clerk’s office about briefs being filed electronically.”
Still, she noted, assistant communications counsel Whitney Payne posted a list of 14 courts that decided to close because of the weather, and notified the Office of State Courts Administrator, including the Court of Appeals, Western District, in Kansas City; the 20th circuit court that includes Osage and Gasconade counties, and the 25th circuit that includes Maries County.
Holste said Thursday afternoon was too soon to decide about today’s work.
“The commissioner of administration will assess information as this weather system moves through and make that call as soon as feasible,” Holste said.
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