Saturday, June 18, 2011

Karen Blackwood tapped for Baldwin County EMA director's job

karen-blackwood.jpgKaren Blackwood

ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — Hours after completing the last of 4 interviews to fill the open Emergency Management Agency director’s job, Baldwin County commissioners hired Karen Blackwood at an annual salary of $97,000.
Her first day on the job is set for July 18.
“I feel fantastic,” Blackwood said after completing the pay negotiations. “I am really looking forward to coming in and working in an area where such a wide range of emergency events occur. That’s what an emergency manager lives for.”
The new director takes on a job left open in April when former director Melvin Stringfellow resigned 6 months after taking the job. He left in the wake of recommending the termination of deputy director Leigh Anne Ryals who served as the agency’s director for years.
A subsequent state evaluation of the EMA indicated problems with outdated or incomplete plans, a lack of training and internal conflicts between staff members.
Commissioners interviewed one candidate Thursday and three others Friday, quickly narrowing the choices to 2 and settling on Blackwood within 30 minutes.
“She is passionate about emergency management,” said Commission Chairman Frank Burt, “and I like to have people around who are excited and energetic.”
Commissioners Charles Gruber and Tucker Dorsey described Blackwood’s credentials as well as her “professional” conduct in the interview as “impressive.” Dorsey said his investigation with emergency management officials in the Southeastern United States turned up unqualified praise for Blackwood, who has 7 years’ experience in emergency management with the U.S. Navy.
Blackwood arrived at the interview with a binder an inch thick with documents from the county’s Web site, a recent state evaluation that highlighted problems in the county agency and various media reports. She also handed out an action plan outlining her first steps should she be tapped for the job.
When salary negotiations began, she asked commissioners for $100,000 in annual pay, saying she had an offer on the table from state officials in Nevada to run their statewide emergency management system. But Baldwin County’s potential for catastrophe in various forms was the challenge she was seeking, she said.
“At the state level, the job would be basically program management,” Blackwood said after the meeting. “At the county level, it includes getting out there with first-responders, boots on the ground. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I would be a storm chaser if I didn’t have children to consider.”
Blackwood, who holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of West Florida, has master’s degrees in emergency management and public administration from Jacksonville State University and Troy University, respectively. She is also a certified emergency manager.
She is working on a doctorate in fire and emergency management administration through Oklahoma State University, her resume states. Her resume lists experience in response and recovery operations in presidentially declared disasters including hurricanes, wildfires and floods.
Blackwood expressed some concern about the one-year contract provision offered by the county, but Burt said "not renewing a contract would be a rare thing." She said the task of rebuilding the EMA warranted a higher salary.
"If you want the best, I can provide the best," she said. Commissioners told her she had latitude to organize the department as she sees fit — keeping in mind they want value for their investment. In making the $97,000 offer, Dorsey said he wanted Baldwin to have "the best emergency management agency on the Gulf Coast" and pledged to provide resources to support the department.
Blackwood’s husband serves in the U.S. Navy and will soon be finishing his military career, she said. The couple have three children ages 16, 13 and 6.

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