I've just returned from the National League of Cities meeting in Charlotte, where the highlight was a panel with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on disaster preparedness.
A lot of criticism has been thrown at Nagin for how he handled himself following Hurricane Katrina. But during the discussion, Nagin came across as charismatic and articulate. The audience of more than 2,000 municipal leaders and employees really warmed to him, especially when he kept the heat on the feds. "Everyone knows there's a certain amount of constipation in Washington," he said. "We need to be the Ex-Lax to bust through that."
Not surprisingly for this crowd, FEMA's sole representative on the panel, Deputy Director of Response Michael Lowder, received a cool response. That included a berating by the mayor of Baton Rouge. Lowder didn't deny FEMA was under-prepared, saying "we plan for the worse but it was worse than what we planned for." But he said all levels of government need to improve collaboration and communication. "It has to be a true partnership, a team. All disasters are local. But it takes the full resources of the country," he said.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley disagreed with many local officials in the debate over the military's role in disaster response. Riley said the military has all the means and knowledge to respond to a major disaster, and that it should be the first responder under local control. "You don't ask someone bleeding to wait 3 or 4 days in an emergency room," he said. "Why are we asking our people to wait?"
NLC has free video of this and other sessions here.
MORE FROM THIS MONTH'S GOVERNING: The Katrina Breakdown