Tackling the Crisis
When I first heard about the coronavirus a few months ago, I’m sure I had the same reaction many of you did: It seemed to be a far-off problem. I watched video from China and immediately was filled with empathy for the people who were suffering there. The direct impact on me was in my private sector job, where our factories were unable to fulfill orders for weeks, and I could see the day-to-day impact on their people and their economy. I began to see how it could have an impact here in the States without the virus actually being here. But I didn’t see it coming to our shores, at least not with such voracity. By the second week of March, it was becoming quite real, and once schools started closing and major league sports started cancelling, there was no denying it. But what would we do, other than cower in our homes?
We each had to answer that question for ourselves, our families near and far, and suddenly, for our community. I have a Dad in Alabama, in-laws in Gwinnett County, daughters with husbands and children (my GRAND children!) in Charlotte and Dunwoody, a college junior suddenly back home, and a business in Tucker. And as your Mayor, I had a city’s health and welfare to protect.
I remember clearly the first time I saw and understood the chart about “flattening the curve”. It dawned on me all at once that this was not about each of us protecting ourselves from the virus: it was about each of us protecting EACH OTHER from the virus. And as we’ve navigated our way trough this time, it’s undeniable that, if not for every single one of you pitching in, even if it’s as simple as that decision you made to stay home for a couple weeks, things could be much worse than they are. As of this writing, I am not yet aware of a single case of COVID-19 in Tucker, though the experts are telling us to brace for it.
I want to use the space in this month’s magazine to look at how the City kept running and how the citizens of the City stepped up and did their part to love their neighbors as themselves.
If you’ve been by City Hall these past few weeks, you haven’t seen much activity. We’ve had essential personnel in place to keep things moving, but in an effort to practice and promote social distancing, most of our staff has been teleworking. And, if the feedback I’ve gotten is any indication, you haven’t seen any drop-off in our level of service.
A lot of credit goes to our leadership. City Manager Tami Hanlin instituted daily conference calls so that we could all be on the same page through the outbreak, while maintaining our distance from one another. She urged department heads to come up with emergency plans, looking at which employees could and could not work from home in this type of situation. She had to weigh people’s medical concerns, childcare concerns, and all the other factors that weigh on your mind when balancing priorities between work, home, and health. I’m proud that she, and we, were able to come up with a system that worked.
So, what have we been doing? We’re prioritizing the safety of our staff, for one. We locked the doors to our City Hall and City Hall Annex, giving visitors a phone number to call. That number goes to a staff member who is inside the building and gives them the chance to ask if the visitor is experiencing any symptoms of illness. This saves our staff from countless coughs, sneezes and other opportunities for germ transmission. It also gives them peace of mind, while enabling them to continue to serve.
We also found ourselves uniquely prepared because our staff all had laptop computers. It sounds trivial, but the decision a few years ago when we started up city operations to give standard issue laptops to all employees allowed, in this case, anyone who needed to telework to do so easily. This was a great bit of foresight, as many other cities’ IT departments were scrambling to find laptops for employees who work primarily on desktop. Our thanks to InterDev and Jacobs for their help and foresight since our earliest days as a city.
There were also our parks folks. The staff at Tucker Recreation Center were disappointed that we had to shut down the building, but they also realized that there was a lot we could do to rally the community and keep them entertained through this difficult time. From online yoga sessions to story times for children, their creativity is helping Tucker residents to stay engaged, while also maintaining some social distance. And their efforts to keep the parks open and the playground equipment sanitized as best we can, has been a godsend to many parents and kids.
Our police and code enforcement officers have carried a heavy load, as they worked for all of us while they worried about their families. Our planners and permitting people kept the lights on so builders and developers could keep working. Everyone took it upon themselves to take care of their public responsibilities.
Surviving on Selflessness
But if you think I’m going to give all the credit to government, then you don’t know me that well. Government is useful and necessary, but it can’t love your neighbor, run an errand for a friend in need, or carry the responsibilities moms and dads are being called to carry right now. It can’t innovate ways to keep a restaurant or small or large business operating at 20 percent of revenues, it can’t sew masks for our medical professionals, and it can’t replace the personal contact we all need right now. It takes every individual in our hometown doing their part to get us through this.
You may not realize it, but the first group to take the step of cancelling or postponing something here in Tucker was not the government. It was the volunteer-led Old Town Tucker Merchants Association (OTTMA). OTTMA is a group of small businesspeople who put on many of Tucker’s beloved Main Street events. Each year, they run the popular Tucker Chili Cook-off. This year, right as all the major sporting events were being cancelled two days before the event, Jamey Wilson and the OTTMA team made a really difficult call to postpone the Chili Cook-off. I don’t think they were happy about it, and I know that anyone with a love of seasoned meats and beans was disappointed, but it was the right call. Though it seems like a no-brainer in retrospect, it took real leadership in the moment.
From that point on, I’ve seen so many people stepping up to do the right thing. Doug Reynics, a neighbor of mine in the Smoke Rise community, runs his own rideshare operation. With rideshares taking a hit from the outbreak, Doug went on Facebook offering to pick up food, medicine or anything else his neighbors may need…free of charge. David Fisher and the team at NETWorks Cooperative Ministries continued their good work providing pantry items and practical help to our neighbors in need. The countless doctors, nurses and public health workers who call Tucker home have worked around the clock and put their own personal safety on the line to help those who needed it. Of course, there are far too many acts of selfless kindness to list. No action has been too small to make a difference during this really difficult time. It has been Tucker at its best, and this is no time to quit.
Simply put, I don’t know what’s next. The City is going to resume normal business at some point in the near future. It’s too soon to know when. Our community’s health care system will get back on its feet. It’s too soon to know how. We’ll all get back to work one day soon, but there will be lots of dislocation and change. I hope we will all continue to heed the advice to wash our hands, keep our social distance and do whatever it takes to put this virus in the rearview mirror, but we don’t know how long that will take.
With our neighbors showing “The Tucker Way”, our community will be stronger and closer-knit once this time has passed. And maybe one day soon we’ll gather on Main Street for one giant community hug.