Clayton County Fire Chief Landry Merkison thanks his fellow county public safety leaders Tuesday for their assistance during last week’s winter storm. Although Merkison was putting the praise on other leaders, officials said he was the one mainly responsible for keeping the county safe and in order during the storm. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
JONESBORO — The Clayton County Board of Commissioners recognition of Severe Weather Awareness Week was intended to highlight the importance of bad weather Tuesday.
It instead turned into a praise-fest for fire Chief Landry Merkison’s leadership during Winter Storm Leon with several county and school system officials commending him during the meeting. Residents also gave him applause.
“I was away but as the people I was with kept up with what was going on in Atlanta, they were saying, ‘Clayton County is on top of it,’” commission Chairman Jeff Turner said.
Officials from the county commission and Clayton County Public Schools said Merkison kept everyone up-to-date about what was going on with the storm, weather forecasts and what conditions were like after it hit.
As the county’s emergency management director, Merkison had to compile information from the county’s police and transportation departments, as well as the sheriff’s office and the National Weather Service. He then had to relay that information to school system and county leaders and make recommendations about closing schools and government offices.
Commission Vice Chairwoman Shana Rooks, who acted in Turner’s stead during the storm, said the information provided by Merkison allowed her to make timely decisions to send government employees home early just as the storm hit.
“The information relayed from Chief Merkison was on time and on point,” Rooks said. “He was very deliberate in the way he conveyed information. He kept everyone apprised of what was going on. It was very easy to make decisions because the recommendation was very clear.”
Similarly, school system police Chief Clarence Cox and school board member Charlton Bivins said Merkison’s information allowed district officials to make a decision to not send children to school Jan. 28. Other school districts on the north side of metro Atlanta did send children to school, but many of the kids got stuck there and couldn’t go home until the next day.
“We got it right last week,” Cox said. “Our success was greatly due to the collaboration that we had with our county leaders, our public safety partners and particularly our EMA director, Mr. Landry Merkison.”
Cox said he and Merkison were in touch with each other throughout the week. He added that Clayton County avoided many of the problems seen in other metro area communities in large part because of Merkison’s guidance and leadership.
“Two inches of snow caused gridlock in our downtown corridors,” Cox added. “I feel that a good part of why Clayton County didn’t have those types of gridlocks was because of some of the things we discussed and the fact that our children were at home safe and not on school buses or in gymnasiums in uncomfortable and illogical accommodations.”
But after all of the praise heaped upon Merkison, when he got a chance to address residents, he put the praise off on other officials, including police Chief Greg Porter, Sheriff Victor Hill and transportation and development Director Jeff Metarko.
“It’s that kind of dedication that kept our county moving and our citizens safe,” Merkison said.