Guest column Patricia A. Vinchesi: Local governments are meeting the challenge

  • Justin Hooten, a Northampton Police Officer and Sharaby Irizarry, an officer in training, talk about the challenges of being a first responder with the COVID-19 Virus. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 3/31/2020 9:54:30 AM

With the onset of COVID-19, local governments have been thrust center stage as a source of information and resources, helping ensure a sense of safety and security for their communities.

In recent weeks, we have witnessed countless examples of towns retooling services, publishing daily updates and reassuring citizens that while many aspects of their lives are in flux, at the local level things are under control and essential services are being provided.

The arrival of COVID-19 has required the rapid mobilization of people and resources on a global scale. Traditionally, most emergencies happen in a defined geographic area so resources from other regions can usually be deployed to assist. The coronavirus is omnipresent, leaving countries, states and communities on their own to address it.

Your local governments have not only stepped up to respond to this unanticipated crisis, they are exhibiting courageous leadership working endless hours to provide services when everything around us at times may seem scattered and chaotic.

Local boards of health are now a key conduit for information and guidance working in partnership with the state Department of Public Health. Municipal websites, Facebook and Twitter communications have constant updates containing best practices and how to keep you and your family safe. Meals for seniors, curbside library books and help for small businesses are just a few of the retooled services being offered, innovations developed at meetings conducted remotely using unfamiliar technology.

Indeed, with so many municipal services available online today, the need to make a personal visit to our local town hall has been greatly reduced if not altogether eliminated. Dog licenses, voter registration and real estate tax payments can all be taken care of with a postage stamp or the click of a mouse. Many of us probably haven’t ventured into our local town hall in years.

Similarly, we drive on roads, drink water and flush toilets maintained by the public works department, but seldom give it a second thought. And, fortunately, most residents never require the 24/7 availability of an emergency response from police, fire or EMS.

While the machinations of the state and federal governments dominate our daily news reports and social media feeds, local government is often in the background, unseen and relatively unnoticed. How that dynamic has now dramatically changed.

And months from now, when we are all able to be out and about again, your local officials will be laboring over Federal Emergency Management Agency documents and mountains of forms and records working to ensure that your community is able to recover in every way possible from this devastating event.

It has been said that the COVID-19 pandemic will be the defining event of the next 30 years. When history judges those who showed resilience, strength and determination during this tumultuous time, town managers and administrators, select boards, councilors, mayors and town employees will most certainly be among those who stepped up to meet the challenge.

Patricia A. Vinchesi is the Northeast Regional Director for the International City Management Association. Before taking this new position in 2018, she served as a town administrator in Massachusetts for over 30 years, including in South Hadley, Whately and Longmeadow. She lives in Conway.

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