Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Mayor, Brother Work Together in Tornado Aftermath

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Mayor, Brother Work Together in Tornado Aftermath

Article excerpt

The following is reprinted with permission from the Montgomery Advertiser.

The Byard brothers are busy helping rebuild their hometown; Jim is the mayor of Prattville, Ala., Jeff is the top merit employee with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency (EMA).

They've worked together--and they've squabbled--in the wake of last month's tornado that plowed through the community.

Jim Byard, 41, became mayor in 1999. He was city council president when the late Mayor David Whetstone died in office. Byard has been elected to two terms in his own right.

Jeff Byard, 35, has been executive operations officer for the state EMA for about a year. He has more than six years' experience in emergency management with the state EMA, FEMA and private emergency preparedness companies. He's worked in relief and recovery efforts for Hurricanes Charley, Dennis, Katrina and Ivan, as well as dozens of local disasters.

The brothers spent a lot of time together last month.

"This effort is a bit unusual because it is my hometown," Jeff Byard said. "Our mother's house was in the path of the tornado and received damage. The first thing I did was check on her, then I started calling in reports (to the state EMA) of storm damage. So I went from concerned son to state employee very quickly."

The mayor was talking to their mother on the phone when the twister hit. He remembers Joan Byard screaming and hearing the sound of glass shattering before the line went dead. Her home had some broken windows and water damage inside.

In the first days after the storm, Jeff Byard was in town helping coordinate the state's response to the storm. More than 860 homes and 50 business were damaged or destroyed in the storm. There were no fatalities and 50 injuries, most minor, were reported.

"I think it's an advantage, for me personally, that Jeff is here," Jim Byard said. "We're brothers, we know what one another is thinking, we know each other's body language."

When state EMA director Brock Long came into Prattville about an hour after the storm hit, Jeff Byard handled the introductions as the group got into Jim Byard's Chrysler Concorde to survey storm damage. Long has been head of the state agency about two months. "Jim, this is my boss, Brock Long," Jeff Byard said from the back seat. "Brock, this is Mayor Jim Byard."

"I hate to meet you under these circumstances," Jim Byard said, shaking hands with Long, who was riding in the front passenger seat.

Jeff Byard knows his actions and reactions to the storm are being observed because his brother is the mayor. He's aware that accusations of preferential treatment are possible.

"There are some counties that are watching to make sure Prattville isn't getting special treatment," Jeff Byard said. …

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