Sauter accepts new position

DOWNEY - Sitting behind a desk full of paperwork, Mark Sauter pours over local, state, and federal safety mandates.Newly-appointed Deputy City Manager/Public Safety Emergency Operations Chief Sauter is starting out the New Year making sure the city of Downey is in compliance with the multitude of governing safety policies and procedures. Sauter, 50, brings 30 years experience as a first responder to his new position. Joining the Downey Fire Department in 1979, he had been the fire chief since 2000. The city's public safety emergency operations position has sat empty since 2005, when its duties were divided up between different departments. After the September 2008 water contamination crisis, City Manager Gerald Caton sought to fill the position immediately. "The city can do well with a plane crash or an earthquake, but we just had an emergency that impacted every single home and business," Caton said. "We realized we need to have the citizens better prepared to respond." On Dec. 15, Sauter began his new position in the city manager's office and tackling the challenges ahead of him. "This position was a collateral duty, but now it is a focused position," Sauter said. Overseeing the implementation of a reverse 911 system for Downey is at the top of Sauter's priority list. Mass communication between city entities, businesses, and residents posed a problem during the water contamination crisis. As a result, the city council recently approved to enter an agreement with the mass notification systems company Avtex Inc. Sauter will begin handling the city's gathering of emergency contact information of its residents and businesses. "I have a host of different things to work on," Sauter said. "Training for the city is needed and there are regulations to abide by. I will be making sure our communications go where they need to go, and looking at blackout and cooling issues. Where do people go - the senior center? How do we check in on people, feed everybody, or contact other entities during an emergency?" Coordinating city wide drills and traffic issues are also on Sauter's plate. "When there are freeway problems, it's hard for our emergency vehicles to get through," Sauter said. "You will always hear me say this position is 'emergency preparedness and operations' because you can always keep supplies at your house (and that's important), but you need to have all of it - transportation, departments working together, shelter, communications, and supplies - to have a sustainable community." To fill Sauter's vacancy at the fire department, Caton appointed Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Turner as acting fire chief. Turner's position as assistant fire chief has been eliminated. "It was an honor to be offered the position, and I will try to do the department and the community proud," Turner said. "This is a nice way to finish out my career." Like Sauter, Turner has been with the Downey Fire Department since 1979. "In this case, I had a great person to put in the fire chief's position and in the new position," Caton said. "I didn't have to recruit anyone which is a good thing because it can cost $10,000 to $50,000 to recruit. Sauter is starting his new position with a salary of $185,000 plus benefits. "I make deputy pay just like down the hall," Sauter said. Caton thinks the new deputy city manager's pay will be money well spent by the city and a salary well earned by Sauter. "The number one priority is public safety and that doesn't just mean fire and police," Caton said. Sauter has already begun scheduling meetings with city council members and disseminating emergency preparedness and safety information to civic organizations. "We are definitely stepping it up," he said. ********** Published: January 9, 2009 - Volume 7 - Issue 38