City Manager Webinar Series: Key City Leadership Decisions to Consider during COVID-19

Daniella Elrom
Daniella Elrom
  • Updated

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 shares some of the unique initiatives and approaches his city has been implementing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Key takeaways

Communication efforts

  • Updated and accessible information is crucial, in order to address the fear and uncertainty about the virus (how it is contracted, how it is treated, where and how to get tested, economic impact and survival) among both residents and city employees alike.

  • Creativity is essential for reaching as many residents as possible, especially those not on social media. Gainesville reached out through ads in newspapers, public community announcements on the radio, and even delivered 25K door handle flyers with important information to low-income families. In addition, they also launched a campaign called “Captain Quarantine,” an animated figure that provides information and guidance on the quarantine in a compelling and engaging way, included two video episodes, ads, and even a mural.

  • Making the Mayor the face of the city’s response helps centralize information. In Gainesville, the city holds telephone one-hour town hall-style weekly conversations with the Mayor.


Unique pains of University Towns

  • The student population makes up around 25% of the city population, so 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 

  • Instead of resorting to furloughing, the city staff was retrained to do contact tracing for the health department

  • University cities will see more political debates around COVID-19-focused initiatives, as the more liberal-leaning students and faculty come into conflict with residents who don't share those views 

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 (e.g. Feldman paid a surprise Zoom visit to 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 a closed community center) and assign them roles in furthering community resilience (e.g. calling elderly residents once a day and becoming virtual pen-pals)

  • 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 buys two meals a day, seven days a  week, prepares them as grab & go, and delivers them to the shelter to be distributed amongst vulnerable populations

  • GNVCares: Allocates $3.2 million dollars, half of which goes to provide two-month-long grants for rent and utility for low-income households, and the other half of which goes to grants to small businesses of under fifty 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, giving them a very short time to respond

  • Prepare in advance to reopen City Hall, such as erecting physical separations like plexiglass to separate residents and staff and ensuring well-stocked 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

  • Too often, the crucial work of understanding the health data sets at real-time is relegated to the county and state level, yet cities need to ensure they, too, have the expertise and tools to be part of the conversation



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