Ridge speaks to Mayors' Conference

MADISON – At the annual summit of the U.S. Conference of Mayors here June 17, homeland security czar Tom Ridge’s appearance was highlighted in materials both promoting and disparaging the summit.

Since Sept. 11, Mayors’ Conference representatives have been engaged in a series of meetings with Ridge and other administration officials on homeland security. The Conference had developed and considered a variety of resolutions, in which mayors pledge that they are “100 percent committed to the domestic war on terrorism” and support various federal initiatives, but also make specific requests. Most of the resolutions passed unanimously.

But contradictions between the administration and the mayors exist, especially on economic and environmental issues, including how to pay for “homeland security.”

The city of Madison deployed its own controversial security plan during the conference. Peaceful protesters, outraged by the corporate influence on government, were met with state and local law enforcement prompting one Madison alderman to call it “overkill.” Other city council members were critical of the security plan, saying it isolated Madison residents from the mayors.

Ridge thanked the mayors for supporting Bush’s plan to create a Department of Homeland Security combining over 100 agencies, 169,000 federal employees, and $37.4 billion in budgets.

When the mayor of Gary, Ind., Scott King, pointed out that cities confronted with emergencies “face a huge hit for overtime compensation” for fire and police, Ridge said “it would be a mistake to set aside dollars for that purpose ... I just don’t think it would be good public policy.” Instead, Ridge offered a “block grant within a block grant,” flex funds for which fire and police unions could compete with other municipal priorities.

One mayoral resolution urged extending the Community Oriented Policing Service program, which helps fund and train local law enforcement. Cleveland’s mayor, Jane Campbell, asked Ridge, “We keep hearing that the strategy in Washington is to take money away from the COPS program [to fight terrorism.] This doesn’t seem to be logical. Can you assure us this is not happening?”

“No, I can’t,” said Ridge, who said the program was “designed to be phased out” and should be.

Ridge also spoke in favor of the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository program, opposed by most mayors, and rejected what mayors seemed to want most of all – that homeland security funds reach them directly rather than via state governments.

The authors can be reached at babette37@juno.com