WASHINGTON - “Show us the money” and “tell us the nature of the threat'' were two loud, frustrated calls from the nation's mayors at a 36-hour summit on security that ended here yesterday.
The mayors complained that since Sept. 11 they are paying millions of dollars in overtime for extra security but that virtually none of the $60 billion in emergency funds appropriated by Congress so far will pay for such expenses.
“We're spending $100,000 a week on overtime with no reimbursement,'' said Thomas Menino of Boston.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates security alone may cost 1,200 cities more than $1.5 billion over the next year.
The mayors also said that they get FBI warnings to be on high alert but are not given enough information to draw the line between overreacting and underreacting.
FBI director Robert Mueller told the mayors he heard them.
“I heard that there are some areas where lines of communication aren't as open as they should be, where we're keeping you at arm's length, and where we're not affording you the level of support you deserve.''
He said one problem is that “on most occasions our information is simply not as specific or as developed as we would all like it to be.'' But he said the “Watch List'' of suspected terrorists is now posted on the National Crime Information Center, distributed digitally.
But that brought up another problem, he told the mayors. “When it comes to the electronic arena, the FBI is often far behind you and your colleagues. Overhauling our electronic infrastructure is a major priority for us, one that we are addressing now.''
Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy complained that now there is no way to know whether to warn the public or not “because we don't know how much more information the FBI knows.”
He said Pittsburgh is getting 20 to 25 calls a day of possible threats and no longer will evacuate large buildings without a preliminary assessment.
Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Patrick McCrory said that from anthrax to airline safety, federal warnings have not been adequate. “We need a plan and reassurance that we will get accurate, specific information,'' he said.
Homeland security director Tom Ridge vowed, “I accept your challenge.''
Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who attended the summit on Wednesday, said he found the conference worthwhile and that he went home more alarmed than he had been.
“It was a grim reminder that there is evil lurking that could strike any of our communities,'' he said, adding that terrorists coming over the Canadian border and the targets of the auto industry and the fresh water in the Great Lakes all pose some potential risk to the Toledo area.
The mayor said that as of two weeks ago local authorities had no idea even where to find anthrax vaccine in the area. Then, “we put the pedal to the metal. We didn't even know how to protect our water supply. Now at least it's under lock and key and there are security guards.''