The New Tropic: When are we really going to talk about Hurricane Irma?

Ariel Zirulnick of the New Tropic writes about how Hurricane Irma should be a wake-up call for all policymakers on the equity of hurricane preparedness plans, especially as it related to “our most vulnerable populations: the elderly and those living at or near the poverty line.”

Tuesday night was a public hearing on the $7 billion 2017-18 county budget, and the first public meeting since the storm. More than 100 residents showed up to give testimony on the budget, which lasted about five hours. Only transit came up as much as Irma, which was connected to calls for more funding for disaster response.

But what I saw, aside from a few commissioners who genuinely listened, was indifference to the locals who came to share their frustrations.

One of the key voices was the New Florida Majority, a local social justice organization. Led by organizer Valencia Gunder, they worked with several other grassroots groups to provide more than 21,000 meals to low-income and elderly locals after the storm as electricity outages and work and transit stoppages prevented many from buying something to eat. Many they helped said they hadn’t heard a peep from the county.

So when NewFM’s executive director Andrea Mercado got her turn to speak, she was quick to criticize Mayor Gimenez for the county response – technically a breach of protocol. The commission bars singling out individuals for criticism (but not for praise…), so Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo cut her mic, urging her to “be respectful.”