Captain Quarantine is everywhere. On the walls, in city parks, on Facebook and Twitter.
It’s a bit silly perhaps. But the dumpy little cartoon guy’s message is deadly serious: “Be a superhero. Stay home!
“We wanted to inject a little levity into the situation,” says Gainesville City Manager Lee Feldman.
Listen, we can all use a smile right about now.
And here’s something else we can feel good about.
Donald Trump may have dithered for months. Ron DeSantis for weeks.
But Gainesville and Alachua County officials didn’t have the luxury of sitting in some far away office and bemoaning “fake news.” They acted with little hesitation to limit public gatherings, close unessential businesses, order residents to stay at home…and carry on as best they could with “business as usual.”
Fortunately, Feldman brought along his “Pandemic Response Playbook,” when he moved into the city manager’s office barely six months ago.
“Whether it’s a pandemic, a recession or a hurricane it’s the same playbook,” said Feldman. “The important thing is to be methodical and collaborative, think through the issues and don’t jump to conclusions.”
City Hall may be closed. But essential city services are not in lockdown.
Those “community builders” (Feldmanese for city employees) who can do their jobs at home are. Some whose jobs have been temporarily sidelined have been repurposed to do things like making calls to check on elderly shut-ins.
But GRU crews are still out and about. Public works is taking advantage of relatively empty streets to repaint lanes and do roadside maintenance. Cops are doing traffic control at mass food distribution events and providing security during coronavirus testing.
Some cities have stopped doing transit. But RTS buses roll still.
“We’ve given drivers necessary protective gear,” says Feldman. “We’ve reduced occupancy on the buses and gone to rear door entry. We’re cleaning the buses more frequently.”
Overall “we want to make sure everybody is protected while the work is still going on. We’re using this time when things are shut down to do work that might otherwise inconvenience businesses” or disrupt traffic.
And perhaps most remarkable, the old intergovernmental feuding that has haunted city-county relations for generations seems to have been exorcised. Mayor Lauren Poe goes on about “how well we have been able to work with the county and how responsive Hutch (commission chair Robert Hutchinson) has been. He made sure to consult with us before any emergency order went forward. He Incorporated our concerns in the orders.”
What, no fighting over who has “absolute” authority? What’s wrong with these guys?
What’s right is that city and county governments are those which are closest to the people. We are all, as Feldman never tires of saying “neighbors,” and neighbors look out for one another.
Still, the real test of local government’s effectiveness will come after things return to some semblance of normal. Lost tax revenue, business closings and joblessness will all conspire to challenge our collective ability to bounce back.
“What role can we play in helping avoid displacement of residents?” Poe poses. “How we help local business stay afloat? We have so few resources but all eyes will turn to us first.”
One way or another, coronavirus is going to test the resilience of daily life hereabouts.
“We’re going to have to deal with a significant economic blowback,” says City Commissioner Harvy Ward. “How can we do things differently and creatively” and with fewer resources? “There’s really no template for that.”
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at floridavelocipede.com.