Letter to the Editor: Former OEM Coordinator Speaks Out About Being Terminated

After being let go by Mayor DePaola on Nov. 7, former OEM Coordinator Paul Malool gives his side of the story following his termination.

The following is a letter from Paul Malool, former OEM Coordinator for the township of Scotch Plains.

As reported in this newspaper, as well as others, I was “relieved of my duties” as the Scotch Plains Emergency Management Coordinator last Wednesday, the day after Election Day. Not coincidentally, I was removed by Mary DePaola, who lost the election for Mayor by an historic margin. DePaola cited “poor performance during and after the storm” as her reason to remove me from the position I have held for almost twelve years.

What she neglected to say is that it was her performance that was poor, before, during and after the storm.  During my tenure in this position, I have prepared for, and responded to, 4 hurricanes, numerous extreme weather events including excessive heat, snow, nor’easters, and flooding, all without one complaint from anyone.

The difference between this storm and those events was that I had the full cooperation of the sitting Township Manager and Mayor each time. This time, however, they were nowhere to be seen.

The Township Manager, who lives an hour away, could not get into town many days, and the Mayor did not attend all the meetings, or answer phone calls or texts.

These two people are essential in a disaster, because they are the designated “Public Information Officers,” – the people responsible for communicating to the public and the press - as noted in the emergency plans that I have prepared every year which have been approved by the New Jersey State Office of Emergency Management.

I informed the Township Manager of this role on the pre-disaster meeting on the Friday before the storm, which was attended by neither the Mayor nor the Police Chief. I then informed the Mayor of this when I met with her to sign the emergency declaration.

In fact, this is why I continually sent updates to the Mayor so she could include them in her updates to the public. In addition, it is the mayor’s responsibility to interface with PSE&G. Each mayor should have the cell phone number of the regional representative for their town.

As an emergency planner for the past twenty years for the state and federal government,( including State Police and FEMA) and as one of only 1100 worldwide emergency managers certified by the International Association of Emergency Managers, I am confident that my preparation, response, remediation and recovery skills are unmatched.

During this storm, I set up a command post at the Southside Firehouse because it had a full generator and so that I would be able to respond to fire calls, because I am also a Battalion Chief in our volunteer fire department.

If the manager or mayor needed to charge their cell phones so they could communicate better, perhaps they should have come to the command post.

I set up a shelter, acquired a generator (one that I have made requests to purchase for the last five years), set up a warming station, distributed MREs, organized the acquisition, storage and cooking of approximately 200 pounds of food for our senior citizens without power, while participating in numerous conference calls and meetings with the county and state OEMs.

While the mayor is entitled to appoint the emergency management coordinator, she is not entitled to rewrite history. A true leader takes responsibility for their actions – or inaction as the case may be.

trythetruth November 13, 2012 at 07:13 PM
My impression is that you were certainly more proactive than the TM and Mayor. And it was totally obscene the way the Mayor threw you under the bus in her statements...while completely absolving herself of any accountabilty. But to your point of "A true leader takes responsibility for their actions – or inaction as the case may be", it seems like nobody is taking any responsibilty whatsoever for this epic failure of communication and leadership. At the very least, while everyone is so intent on pointing fingers and throwing one another other under the bus, would it be so hard to say that "Maybe I could have done better? Maybe there are some things that now in hindsight I wish I had done differently"? Would that be so hard to admit? Jeez, talk about lowering the bar....
neveragain November 13, 2012 at 07:35 PM
What's also interesting is that this is the first mention I have seen through this entire ordeal of the Township Manager - the person who gets paid big bucks to run this town. He has really been given a free pass for the township's failures to serve its citizens and taxpayers. I think that his perfomance should be investigated and evaluated along with the mayor's the the OEM's.
trythetruth November 13, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Good point. Of course the way these guys are assassinating each other, in due time I'm sure the Tax Assessor, Township Clerk and Library Director will all be offered up as scapegoats as well.
Builda Wall November 13, 2012 at 09:24 PM
So let's see, to autopsy the situation: 1. Every year the OEM prepares emergency management plans for the town which are approved by the state. 2. These plans define the Township Manager and Mayor as our Public Information Officers and as our interface with PSE&G. 3. The Friday before Sandy the Manager was informed of his role in a meeting the mayor and police chief didn't attend. 4. The mayor was informed/reminded of her role when she later signed the emergency declaration. 5. Malool set up a warming and charging station, distributed meals, and worked with OEM officials around the state while our Public Information Officers--one of whom was at home in Sparta fer petessake--were MIA and told us next to nothing. 6. Townspeople shivered cluelessly in the dark. 7. The mayor blamed her lack of communication on her inability to get to a charging station her own OEM was running. According to google it's 1.3 miles from the mayor's house to the OEM's charging station. I also know within 48 hours of the storm the road was driveable because I drove it myself. 8. The OEM is fired by the mayor for being unprepared. Of course these facts will be disputed. The mayor's defenders (if there are any left) will probably claim the OEM let her fail to help swing the election. But the bottom line seems to be that the town had a plan in place, the OEM fulfilled his role but got blamed because the mayor and manager failed at theirs.
Jenni November 13, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Wonder what the rush was to fire Mr Malool? It makes no sense to fire the OEM while this was still considered an emergency, since roads, schools, & local businesses remained closed and many residents still had did not have electricity restored ??? Looks like another poor and unacceptable decision!!!
SPTaxpayer November 14, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Every time the outgoing unelected mayor opens her mouth she digs her own political grave deeper and deeper. The storm was awful and we should all be grateful it was not worse. But it blew the cover off the facade of competency the unelected mayor had tried to create. For this, I thank you Sandy. Hopefully, we can now move forward and let the people who want to lead and improve the town do that. Serious incidents like this just go to show that people in positions of responsibility need to be competent and possess common sense to be effective.
Ryan P. November 14, 2012 at 10:43 AM
Toniann and Nicole, could you perhaps seek out the Town Manager and ask for an 'on the record' statement, perhaps even a letter to the editor? 'NeverAgain' has a very pertinent point regarding the silence of the Town Manager. Residents of the Township deserve answers from the Town Manager as well. A request to Chief Mahoney for a statement or letter to the editor may also be of benefit to residents. Residents have a right to know why everything went to Hell in Township Hall for over two weeks. The people of Scotch Plains have already held their elected officials to account. Now, it is of the utmost importance to inquire as to the role of our non-elected officials in contributing to this debacle. The Township must be prepared for a disaster in the future and asking questions to those in positions of power is an essential step in the investigatory process.
Phyllis Bregman November 14, 2012 at 12:17 PM
Why do we have a Town Manager who lives in Sparta? As a business woman, the management of the hurricane was a fiasco. There was tremendous destruction all over town but especially on the south side and very little communication. Bickering like children did not and will not help our residents. I'd like to see a plan that addresses the problems and how to avert them in the future.
Leonard J dobis November 14, 2012 at 12:59 PM
We should hire the guys or girls who run the CVS Pharmacy on Second Ave. to manage the Townnship, since they were able to keep the store open during the storm! They did a great job servicing the people of Scotch Plains, and I doubt that they had any Emergency Managent training or certification.
Robin P November 14, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Every person I've spoken to since Sandy hit (and I've talked to a lot) agrees that the real failure in town was the lack of communication and information available. The massive amount of damage simply takes time to clean up and repair. We all understand that. The town manager, who I found at the end of week 1, chatting at the police dispatch desk having a hot cup of coffee, insisted that the mayor DID NOT have a contact at PSE&G. He rudely told me that the town didn't have any better idea of what was going on than the residents & business owners. After the power failed at town hall last week, I had already managed to slip into the building and up to the mayor's office. The poor woman manning the reception desk was apologetic and distressed. She kept looking toward the offices but alas, no one emerged from their offices to bail her out. It seems to me that Malool led the horses to water but he couldn't make them drink.
Holden MaGroin November 14, 2012 at 01:38 PM
I’m Holden MaGroin and I learn many things from the Patch. Here is what I’ve learned from the past couple of weeks. Mrs. DePaola could sure use some cell phone car chargers for Christmas. Mr. Marks thinks that almost 60% of the town is irrational because they didn’t agree with him. Councilman Vastine thinks that Scotch Plains is too big to manage and Fanwood is easier because it’s smaller. Mayor DePaola thinks that SP is a borough and not a township. Mrs. Coronato is a prophet. In her 2nd letter to the “arguably vulgar” HM she offers an “interesting tidbit” about how in 2008 people voted one way at the top of the ticket and another way for the municipal candidate. Well knock me down and call me Sally, she was right again. Only this time the margin was 1,500 votes and went the other way. I’ve heard the expression that elections have consequences, but I always thought it was the winners that did the consequencing. Based on DePaola's statement, the chief of police replaced Mr. Malool because he handled a nor’easter better than Malool did the hurricane…a day before the nor’easter hit. According to the Star-Ledger article from Sunday, Mrs. DePaola has begun re-writing the history of Sandy. Now that Mr. Glover has won, I wait with interest to see what happens with the OEM position. And also what he’s going to do about the poop fee. Just because I loathe the prior regime doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten your words.
Andria K November 14, 2012 at 04:22 PM
1) Our township manager should live within a reasonable distance from the town he or she is serving. Clearly not the case here . 2) As for Bo Vastine- get your facts straight. Scotch Plains is 9.6 squ miles, not 12.
Sean Gaynor November 14, 2012 at 04:44 PM
I think the most relevant thing Holden said is that he loathes the prior regime. Look, Scotch Plains was in a world of hurt. And there's plenty of blame to go around. But you can't tell me that the OEM Coordinator gets NONE of the blame, and DePaola (and now the Township Manager) get all of it. I think everyone gets a little blame - for example, the OEM, knowing that our township manager lives an hour away, should not have made him a "Public Information Officer" since he necessarily can't always get to town. Everyone made mistakes, but that doesn't mean the OEM Coordinator gets none of the blame. Everyone chalks this up to political retribution - what if Glover had done it? Would it be political retribution for losing to Malool's wife last time he ran for Mayor?
Scotch plains resident November 14, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Totally agree with all comments. Malool was the unfortunate scapegoat for a myriad of problems for which Mayor Mary and Town Mgr are ultimately accountable. What's done is done. Now the people of SP want to know what is being done to prevent a repeat of this mess going forward. Another Nor'easter is already on the horizon for next week. Time to do the post-mortem and get it together people, BEFORE it hits. We can't keep blaming PSEG all day. How will multi-channel communication be managed to keep people informed? How will town communicate directly with PSEG? etc. And PS, the reverse phone system only works if people's phones are operating! Suggest they meet with Westfield and Fanwood mayors for pointers.
neveragain November 14, 2012 at 05:11 PM
I think it's reasonable to expect a thorough, transparent investigation of the handling of the town's response to the storm. The taxpayers deserve an explanation of what happened. And the performance of all parties, including those persons who are PAID for their township responsibilities, should be impartially evaluated. It's especially troubling to think that a feud between the Malools and DePaola is partially responsible for the pathetic response - but at this stage of the game, and with everybody covering their backsides, that appears to be the case. I hope that an investigation proves otherwise because it would be especially discouraging to learn that our public servants are that petty.
Holden MaGroin November 14, 2012 at 05:26 PM
I'm Holden MaGroin and this is for Mr. Gaynor. I've missed our exchanges. I would ask you to look up who decides the people who are named the "public information officers". Is it the OEM? I also like to play "what if". Here's a few to chew on; What if the mayor had been more competent in getting information out to the community like Westfield and Fanwood did? Might she be mayor-elect? What if the boyhood friend of Mr. Marks had an expertise in municipal law and not personal injury law? Might he have not been replaced when Marks left? What if one of the 5 who we elected to council looked at the OEM's plans and said they are lacking before they were approved? Might the community have been better prepared? What if the mayor and chief of police were available for the meeting prior to the storm? Could they have then raised questions about the plan? It is quite clear to many that this firing was political payback. It's ok if you choose not to agree. Luckily I did not need the assistance of the OEM or fire dept, so I didn't come into contact with Mr. Malool. From those who did and wrote on the Patch, it seems he had his act together much more than those we elected. As a side note, I stayed with Herbie and Bygby in Fanwood. I've often admired Bygby's cans from afar. Well let me tell you, those cans came in handy during the storm. We had soup on a gas stove and also lot's of Del Monte veggies. Herbie offered me some meat in the can, but I declined.
Sean Gaynor November 14, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Tbh Holden, I don't really miss our "exchanges." But I'll bite. Notice I never said that the Mayor did everything right and Malool did everything wrong. And you'll never hear me say this. There were a lot of mistakes made. But I don't think that blaming the mayor and not Malool makes sense - as I said, there's plenty of blame to go around (and I'm glad you blame all 5 elected council members - that's very refreshing coming from you). I will say that I think it's unfair to comment based on one side of the story - for example, Malool says the Mayor didn't come to the meetings, but I believe the Mayor has said she was not told of the meetings. Similarly, Malool has had supporters saying he came around and was very helpful - he was nowhere to be found on my street (14 days without power). So all I'm saying is that not all the blame should be placed on 1 person. Or 2 people. There are plenty of people at fault.
Mike Hawk November 14, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Holden, having stayed with the Hinds on more than one occasion I insist you try Herbie's meat in the can. Mike Hawk loves it
Bill G November 14, 2012 at 09:00 PM
One thing the exMayor doesn't get as she rewrites the blame game I learned as a Junior Officer in the Air Force many years ago. It has stood the test of time for effective leadership. "you can delegate authority but you can not delegate responsibility" Regardless of who said or didn't say or do it comes back to this one precept and our exMayor failed miserably
becks November 14, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Totally agree. The buck stops with the mayor and she failed. I was not impressed with any of our "officials" and how they handled this crisis. I'm glad to hear they were out helping some of our town people but there needs to be better communication and a better plan for the next time. Our town needs leaders not people pointing fingers.
Michael Lewis November 15, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Just a small question / observation because I many not remember this correctly. At some point in discussions relating to the potential merger of the two police departments was it not proposed that Fanwood Chief Trigo head up the merged entity and the SP Chief take on a role similar to that he is taking on now pending his retirement down the road? If my memory serves, it is an interesting side note to this broader discussion.
Holden MaGroin November 15, 2012 at 03:09 AM
I'm Holden MaGroin and this is for Sean. I thought you were honoring me with a title. Imagine my disappointment when I saw that Tbh didn't mean The Honorable and Benevolent. But that's ok. I don't understand why you do not miss our exchanges. I thought you would like an exchange of opinions. Of course you are not able to say the mayor did everything right. Quite the opposite is true. I understand the need to try to spread the blame. I was looking for our exchange when you were defending the urinating UC encroachers but couldn't find it. So I clicked on your name to short cut my search. My oh my, I missed all your comments congratulating Marty, questioning Glover, trashing Dems, etc. etc. I'm glad you found me refreshing, with the power back on a shower will do wonders. I am confused though. You say me saying how I loathe the old regime was the only relevant part of my comment. Like that paints me strictly as a Dem. Yet you come on here postulating on sharing the blame like your some neutral arbiter. I expressed why I loathe, such as the cronyism of questionably qualified appointments, rudeness to citizens, using religious bigotry to stifle questions, etc, etc. Can you help me with your objections to change or defense of the offensives vie mentioned? ( and by the way documented with links along the way)
NAD November 15, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Holden, It is great to see you back! I have an extra skip in my step because of it.
Holden MaGroin November 15, 2012 at 07:48 PM
I'm Holden MaGroin and this is for NAD. Why thank you. As stated above, the MaGroins made it safely through the storm, hunkering down in the Hind's bunker. Herbie had a generator and his FIOS was working so I was able to follow all the details from Westfield and Fanwood. I even visited the library to stay informed. Since some do not appreciate my frivolity, I thought it best to remain strictly a reader during the dark period of the last couple of weeks. Besides, there were plenty of comments that were able to capture what I was thinking and they were written better than I am capable of. Plus, seeing what happened to the OEM, and guessing I'm probably non-grata with the ousted regime, it is most likely best I keep my political comments to a minimum until Glover screws something up or DePaola fires someone else prior to January.
Just a fan November 18, 2012 at 02:33 AM
Let's give a shout out to the Rock Em' Sock Em' Radiers! Did anyone witness what I saw today?


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