LONG BEACH — The question seemed simple enough: Councilwoman Jan Hall asked whether the city has filed with the state a mandatory plan to handle a major emergency such as a big earthquake.
And in requesting a report from the city manager, Hall said that she had heard from someone in Sacramento that Long Beach had not filed the necessary emergency preparedness plan. She also cited concern from the local medical profession about coordination and preparedness in case of an emergency.
Surprised by Hall's remarks, a couple of her colleagues attacked her tactics and her tone, which they called alarmist. Both City Manager James Hankla and City Atty. John Calhoun said that, as far as they know, everything is in order.
Hall, in turn, later called the minor brouhaha a political stab spurred by a supporter of Mayor Ernie Kell. Kell and Hall are two of nine candidates vying for the mayoral job in the April 12 election.
"I'm absolutely amazed that any member of the City Council wouldn't want a free flow of information--which is all I was asking for," Hall said after the meeting.
Vice Mayor Warren Harwood, a Kell supporter, criticized Hall during the meeting for raising what he said are unwarranted concerns. "Whether some nameless bureaucrat in Sacramento has a file folder" is not a measure by which to judge whether the city staff is doing its job, Harwood said.
He suggested that the councilwoman "inquire quietly and learn what the facts are" before raising an issue during a council meeting.
Likewise, Councilman Ray Grabinski said he, too, was troubled by "the appropriateness of how this was brought up."
"Now we're hearing (that) doctors from hospitals" are saying there isn't enough coordination, Grabinski said. Noting he has two hospitals in the district he represents, Grabinski said he has not heard of similar concerns from anyone in the medical community.
Kell said he recently spoke with representatives of the American Medical Assn. If there was a problem, "as mayor, they would have told me."
After the meeting, Hall said doctors she recently spoke with said there could be better coordination between the medical community, city departments and others in preparing for an emergency. She couldn't remember the name of the state's disaster preparedness council official who told her the Sacramento office was missing an updated version of Long Beach's emergency preparedness plan.
"It's a man I met on the plane," Hall said.
"(It is) not unreasonable to ask for an update," Hall said. Her questions were not "meant to threaten staff."
Councilman Tom Clark, a Hall supporter, later said: "It's perfectly legitimate for any council member to raise issues at the meeting. And certainly we all do. I don't think it's inappropriate."
Hall called the incident "an unfortunate effort to embarrass me every time I ask a question. (But) it won't stop me from asking the question."