Arizona emergency management director resigns amid COVID-19 crisis

The Washington Times has reported that the director of the Arizona Division of Emergency Management (DEMA) resigned on Saturday. 

In a letter addressed to Gov. Doug Ducey, Wendy Smith-Reeve stated that she feels her “presence and function is duplicative” during the coronavirus pandemic as is being addressed by other agencies, according to The Hill.

Emergency management chief resigns

Smith-Reeve formerly answered to Maj. Gen. Michael T. McGuire, and the Times indicated that he has now taken over the job of directing emergency operations. McGuire has replaced Smith-Reeve with Anthony Cox, who is now serving as the division’s acting director.

“We appreciate Deputy Director Smith-Reeve’s service,” McGuire said in a statement. “As Director of DEMA, I am grateful for Mr. Cox’s willingness to assume the director of the Division of Emergency Management position.

“I have full confidence and trust that Mr. Cox, along with the deep bench of talented and capable leaders on the DEMA team, will not miss a beat as we drive on to serve the great state and citizens of Arizona,” he added.

“Duplicative” role cited

The Arizona Republic published a copy of Smith-Reeve’s resignation letter, and it reveals some behind-the-scenes conflict concerning the manner in which the state has been handling the COVID-19 crisis.

The outgoing director wrote: “it has become clear that my role is being addressed by the Governor’s staff and ADHS which means my presence and function is duplicative.”

“That,” Smith-Reeve continued, “is not healthy for the Team who are working tirelessly on this event. The directives from the Governor’s office have been to work completely outside of the State Emergency Response and Recovery Plan that the Governor acknowledged and directed the state enterprise to follow when signing Executive Order 2017-06.”

“The lack of communication and transparency is degrading the hybrid process that non emergency management trained individuals have put into place,” she added.

Difference of opinion

During a follow-up interview, Smith-Reeve’s apparent difference of opinion with higher-ups in Arizona state government became a bit more evident, as she told the Republic, “Our job as emergency managers is to understand the expertise and the problems that all of the other partners can help you solve.”

She went on to explain that “the lessons learned from one event, you can then apply in an appropriate way much earlier in the next event. That’s what the plan is designed to do.”

According to Smith-Reeve, allowing career emergency management professionals focus on their jobs “is going to help solve the problem faster and get resources to those in need at a far faster pace.”

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