ICMA in partnership with Zencity hosted the webinar Engagement During a Crisis: Local Government's Response to COVID-19 with local leaders from Cedar Rapids, IA; Winthrop, MA; and Peachtree Corners, GA.
[ICMA Site registration required]
Zencity CEO Eyal Feder moderated a discussion on local government’s response to engaging residents during COVID-19 with Sandi Fowler, Deputy City Manager of Cedar Rapids, IA; Austin Faison, Town Manager of Winthrop, MA; and Brian Johnson, City Manager of Peachtree Corners, GA.
Tenacious Communication and Maximum Transparency
Sandi Fowler shared that Cedar Rapids prioritizes “tenacious communication” and monitoring media channels for misinformation and confusion. Learning from previous crises during flooding events in 2008 and 2016, Cedar Rapids developed extensive communications-focused personnel and technological resources to effectively communicate with residents.
Brian Johnson of Peachtree Corners stressed the importance of maintaining maximum transparency with the city council, city employees, and residents. In a dynamic and confusing situation, the community is looking for leadership. “We’re probably overcommunicating,” said Johnson.
Quickly address resident concerns
When the Town of Winthrop looked to continue a previously planned and critical infrastructure project, residents objected to the need to temporarily shut off water supply to a number of households. Having identified resident concerns quickly, Town Manager Austin Faison was able to address the issue, ensure continued water supply, and move forward with an important development project that will be vital for the town’s future economic vitality.
Johnson holds daily Facebook Live sessions to answer resident questions to show residents that city services remain open and available during the crisis.
Learning from previous emergencies, Cedar Rapids, Linn County, and nearby municipalities had already set up joint emergency operations centers and protocols. As personnel already knew and trusted each other, the city and its partners were able to coordinate consistent messaging. They also shared important resources including staff.
Faison and Johnson continuously update their residents on news from the State and County, and communicate with regional authorities on a daily basis.
Continuing to invest in growth while responding to resident concerns
City managers need to begin planning how they will help their local businesses come out of the crisis.
Peachtree corners promote shopping local via its dedicated mobile app.
Cedar Rapids and Winthrop are continuing vital infrastructure projects necessary for economic sustainability and growth.