Lee Feldman has been a City Manager in various Florida cities for the past 25 years - including the cities of North Miami, Fort Lauderdale and since November 2019 the city of Gainesville - home of the University of Florida. In this webinar, he shared some of the unique initiatives and approaches his city has been leading in light of the COVID-19 Crisis.

Key Takeaways:

Communication efforts

Information is crucial

  • There is a lot of fear and uncertainty about the virus - how it is contracted, how it is treated, where and how to get tested, and a fear of basic economic survival.
  • That is why making sure employees and residents have updated accessible information is crucial.

Be creative in reaching residents during COVID-19

  • Reaching out to the residents that are not on social media and are lacking information is a major challenge.
  • Gainesville reached out through ads in newspapers, public community announcements on the radio, and even delivered 25K door handles with important information to low-income families.
  • Gainesville also launched a campaign called “Captain Quarantine” - an animated figure that provides information and guidance on the quarantine in a compelling and engaging way - including two video episodes, ads, and even a mural.

Make the Mayor the face of the city’s response

  • The city holds telephone town halls with the mayor weekly - the city dials out to all the phone numbers it has and holds a one-hour conversation with the community.

Unique pains of University Towns

  • The student population makes up around 25% of the city population - their current absence means the city is highly impacted economically.
  • The movement of students from all over the country, and even internationally, in and out of the city during the crisis poses a public health challenge. They might come from “hotspot” communities, meet back at the campus and then go back to their communities several times as the pandemic unravels over the coming months.
  • Instead of furloughing - the city staff was trained to do contact tracing for the health department.
  • University cities will see more political debate - they tend to be very liberal, driven by the faculty of the universities. That means these cities need to prepare for their initiatives to become hotbeds of political debate for a larger audience.

Community connectivity is crucial for resilience

  • The community needs to stay physically distant but socially connected, and the virtual environment has a huge role.
  • Cities need to be part of the virtual conversation in their community - Feldman “Zoom-bombed” a virtual Homeowners Association (HOA) meeting to update them about what the city is planning.
  • Repurpose city staff that cannot proceed with their normal roles in the current situation (e.g. staff of closed community center) and assigns them community resilience roles - e.g. calling elderly shut-in residents once a day and becoming a virtual pen-pal.
  • Incorporate local talent to bring together the community - e.g. with sing-alongs.

Put city resources back into the community to support vulnerable populations

  • FeedGNV - The city bought meals, had them prepared as a grab and go, and then delivered to the shelter to be handed to the vulnerable population. They are doing that 2 meals a day, 7 days a week.
  • GNVCares - a 3.2 million dollar program - half of the money goes to provide grants for rent and utility for low-income households to assist them for two months. The other half goes to grants to small businesses of under 50 employees.

Prepare for reopening in advance

  • Cities are getting the information about reopening from the Governor almost at the same time as the general public. That means they have a very short time to respond.
  • Prepare in advance to reopen city hall - put in physical separations like plexiglass to separate residents and staff, and ensure a stock of PPE.
  • Provide protective gear to both drivers and commuters to allow the use of public transit.

Make sure to have good data

  • Spend an hour or two a day learning from what other local governments are doing around the country and around the world and engage in conversations with those cities.
  • Understanding the health data sets at real-time is crucial, but that is something that was left to the county and state level. Cities need to step up and make sure they have the expertise and tools to be part of the conversation.

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