Butler County EMA director leaving

Many praise Haverkos for work during pandemic, but sheriff sees opportunity in his departure.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Butler County Emergency Management Agency Director Matt Haverkos is leaving public service after 17 years to dedicate his time to a shipping business he started earlier this year.

Haverkos tendered his resignation to the EMA board on Tuesday but will stay until the end of the summer to acclimate his second-in-command, Jim Bolen, who the board has named his successor. Haverkos said he has had side businesses since college and it’s time to move on.

“I’ve been talking with the board and leadership for about six months on some transition course as I move onto private sector ventures after 17 years of emergency management...,” Haverkos told the Journal-News. ”Small business has always been my niche, and emergency management has just been a passion.”

He has been at the board for eight years. The shipping business is “just going to take a lot more time and dedication from me.”

The Emergency Management Agency is not a first responder to emergencies; the local police and fire agencies are. The EMA comes into play when incidents above and beyond a normal emergency occur and other resources are required.

The coronavirus pandemic was a perfect example of the EMA’s function. Haverkos and his team used their resources to ensure jurisdictions countywide never ran out of PPE and other items used to battle the deadly virus. They also helped organize mass vaccination clinics and other tasks.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers, who is the commissioners’ representative on the EMA board, said Haverkos handled the crisis masterfully.

“When we had the COVID pandemic come up, he’s shown time and time again how he’s answered the call and been able to gather the resources together, personnel and materials to get us through those crises,” Rogers said. “He also added cooperation with many other organizations, which gave us good outcomes.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter worked closely with Haverkos and the three health departments on mass vaccination efforts during COVID.

“I am sad to see him go, I wish him well, I think he did a very good job and was the right person at that time and place,” she said.

Not everyone is a fan, however, Haverkos has clashed several times with Sheriff Richard Jones. Most recently they tussled over the use of county emergency response vehicles and the sheriff wanting to send some of his people to Kentucky for training because he told the commissioners he couldn’t get it from EMA.

“Him leaving as far as I’m concerned, and others, it’s probably the best thing that can happen to Butler County,” Jones told the Journal-News. “He has a tendency to divide and not unite, he’s a divider and not a uniter. Him leaving is everybody’s chance to come together and work more together.”

The EMA doesn’t confine itself to the county’s borders. Haverkos and his team managed the county emergency operation center and county all hazards incident management team, responding to dozens of local and national incidents, including the East Palestine train derailment in northern Ohio.

The EMA is run by its own 13-member executive board — as prescribed by law — comprised of governmental officials from across the county, and there are five employees with an operating budget of around $530,000. Haverkos told the Journal-News they have one of the lowest tax rates in the county for emergency services and have “secured millions” in grants.

“Matt did a great job as far as running EMA,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “He knows what he’s doing and he has contributed a lot.”

Middletown Police Chief David Birk told the Journal-News Haverkos has “been awesome” as director of EMA.

“He’s done an outstanding job. We dealt with him a lot during COVID and he was able to get us everything we asked for in a timely manner,” Birk said. “He’s been great, I can’t speak enough about how good he’s done with the job.”

Haverkos came to EMA from a position in Warren County emergency services in 2011. He took over the top spot in 2015 after former director Jeff Galloway left to become the fire chief in Morgan Twp.

Jones has been trying to take over the EMA for more than a decade, but until 2019 the commissioners couldn’t consider it because it was prohibited by state law. The takeover became legal after State Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., inserted a provision in the transportation bill that allows the command change.

Jones raised the issue again in 2019 and a crowd of people came out to lobby the commissioners to deny the move. He said he could save the county about $150,000 annually, reduce redundancies and increase efficiency but EMA supporters said they wanted to retain the independent operation.

“Different communities across the country do it in different ways so we explored that opportunity in 2019 and the community, everybody from elected officials, public safety community I think spoke pretty loudly they’re happy with the structure of an emergency management board built from the jurisdictions in Butler County,” Haverkos said. “That was proven a success as we entered into a global pandemic and Butler County led the way.”

Jones said some police and fire chiefs and state lawmakers supported his plan. The commissioners never took action on the matter.

After Haverkos leaves Jones said he might broach the subject again.

“We’re just going to see when he leaves what happens,” Jones said. “I still believe that that operation should be under the sheriff, or under the commissioners and they should control it. It’s gotten way out of hand with Haverkos and the board, we’ve been pushed out, we feel there is an opportunity for better communications.”

The commissioners all said they would keep an open mind if Jones tries again.

“You never say never when you’re looking at spending the taxpayers dollars and being the most efficient,” Dixon said.

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