Lee County Commission approves Rita Smith as permanent EMA director

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By Hannah Lester
hlester@opelikaobserver.com

The Lee County Commission approved EMA Director Rita Smith to continue in her position after she served for the last year probationally.

The discussion on Smith’s evaluation began at the Feb. 8 meeting and continued through the Feb. 22 meeting, but ultimately the commission voted unanimously to keep Smith on. Additionally, she will receive a 10% raise.

Smith provided a fact sheet to commissioners on Feb. 8 that shared a summary of the last year for the agency.

“We weren’t able to do some of the things we wanted to do this year because we were, for lack of a better word, we were at full tilt,” Smith said at the Feb. 8 meeting. “And we’re still at full tilt.”

Over the last year, however, Smith has built up an EMA team. From two full-time employees, including herself, to five full-time employees and one part-time employee.

“I feel very, very proud personally of the team that’s there and the different personalities and the way everybody works together,” she said. “Hands down one of the best group of individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”

Smith said that she has set a high bar for herself and all her employees.

Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland and Opelika Police Chief Shane Healey both attended the Feb. 8 meeting to vouch for Smith as EMA director.

“She has done a wonderful job for us,” Copeland said. “The landscape of what we have established with the EMA Lee County to us is a lot different than it was some year and a half ago. We were struck in 2019 by the March 3rd tornado and we did a lot of rebuilding and help, and it was tough without good leadership.”

Copeland said that Smith provided excellent leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wanted to come speak on [Smith’s] behalf,” Healey said. “She has been a friend of mine for a long time. We met, obviously, doing this job. And to say that she is amazing is putting it lightly.”

Healey praised Smith’s response in 2019 to the tornado and her aid to the Opelika Police Department.

“I would really appreciate you guys giving her a shot to stay on,” he said.

The commission postponed voting on Smith’s position until Feb. 22 so the commissioners could research and discuss options.

“I think we’re — I hope we are — all in agreement that we want [Smith] to stay on permanent,” said District 4 Commissioner Robert Ham on Feb. 22. “She’s done a wonderful — in my opinion, she’s done a wonderful job and appreciate all that she does for us. Thank you Rita.”

Ham made a motion to make the position permanent and add a 10% raise.

“You’ve done an excellent job, so I think we need to make her permanent, take the temporary off,” said District 1 Commissioner Doug Cannon.

Smith’s past probationary year has been difficult, dealing with the pandemic as a new EMA director.

“It has been very different for emergency managers, even as someone with 18 years’ experience,” she said. “This last year was very challenging. A lot of things thrown at us all at once, with very limited staff to start with.”

Now, Smith has a full team and praised their efforts in the Lee County EMA.

“I can’t say enough good things about them. And we couldn’t do what we do, and I wouldn’t be here, without that group of exceptional individuals being able to support, help and do their jobs,” she said.

Smith said that upcoming goals for EMA will include moving into a new space. Additionally, there is a lot of work that the EMA does when there is not sever weather, Smith told the commission.

“I’m very humbled,” she said. “I was so happy it was a unanimous vote tonight.”

Other Business:

THE HYPHENS BELOW MUST MUST MUST GO IN THE PAPER

The commission voted to move the appraisal department under the purview of the revenue commissioner from the county commission.

The commission voted to approve the advancement program for entity-level positions for promotions.

The commission voted to approved the Fiscal Year 2021-2022 Annual Levy of Alcoholic Beverage Fees.

The commission voted to appoint District 2 Commissioner Sarah Brown to the Lee-Russell Council of Governments Board of Directors.

The commission voted to appoint Cannon to the Auburn University Airport Advisory Board, previously filled by late District 2 Commissioner Johnny Lawrence.

The commission voted to approve the final plat approval for Deerfield Oaks Subdivision.

The commission voted to approve a bid for the 2021 striping and pavement markers for the highway department.

The commission voted against bids for radios and equipment installation.

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