County Manager Column from July 28, 2020

This column was originally published as a "From the County Manager" column on our employee intranet.

How long is this emergency period going to last?

One of the questions I’ve heard from employees lately is when the state of local emergency that we’ve been operating under since March 13 (about 20 weeks ago now) is going to end?

The short answer is we just don’t know yet.

In some ways "state of local emergency" sounds more dramatic than what it connotes. In short, it allows us to operate in a structure centered on the prioritization of resources to address the pandemic and ensure our service delivery aligns to help those most in need. For instance, it facilitates operating in an Incident Command Structure (I wrote and recorded a video about this a few weeks back) for streamlined decision-making, bringing all of our organization’s resources to bear. Another example - it allows us to execute contracts for needed services promptly and provides a framework to track expenses for reimbursement  from the state or federal government. The emergency also allows the board of commissioners to meet and conduct business in more flexible ways, while ensuring that the work of the county can continue forward to meet the challenges of the moment. These are very real advantages to get things done effectively during this crisis. There are many more ins and outs to this, too, and I’m happy to welcome our Director of Emergency Management, Judd Freed, to take us through some of these in this week’s video. Judd has been at this a long time and although many of the same strategies and tactics used for a flood or fire are used, as emergencies go, this pandemic has brought a number of new challenges to the emergency management discipline that he will acknowledge are even new to him after decades in the field.

From a policy perspective, each week I check in with our board of commissioners and share the latest information from Public Health about COVID-19 and how it’s continuing to affect our community and workplace. (Much of it summarized in our COVID-19 daily situational dashboard). Operationally, we coordinate with departments through the Service Delivery Design process to make safe and incremental changes that continue providing services as accessibly and effectively as possible with continuous guidance from Public Health. Service Delivery Design updates are posted at ramseycounty.us/coronavirus and are available to all.

Staff from several departments were working entirely off-site by the third week of March. Over the last few months, I have shared the message that if you are currently working off-site successfully you should expect to continue doing so at least through Labor Day – now just over a month away. At that milestone we’ll be stepping back to review all of the factors and make a broad assessment of the state of the organization and where we’re at with COVID-19. It doesn’t take long to read that an uncertain future will likely still be with us at that time, so the most likely outcome in September will be to extend our current operating practices to keep everyone distanced, safe and providing services in the new and different ways that are becoming our new norm. The need for the continuation of the state of local emergency certainly will be part of that process, and it is an aspect that the board takes very seriously. We need to be realistic about balancing the need all of us have for normalcy and keeping employees safe – as we "turn the dials" to reopen services and spaces, we know there will be the increased chance of spreading COVID-19.

I hope this response and video are useful in providing perspective to the question about this emergency period. As always, I very much appreciate employees’ questions about COVID-19 or any other topic. I want the topics we cover to be relevant to you and those around you, so this week I want to open it up to all of you to suggest topics or submit questions for a future column or video. If you have a question or topic of interest, there’s a good bet your colleagues do as well! So send them in, either by emailing your question or topic to ramseynews@ramseycounty.us or through our submissions page on RamseyNet.

Thanks for all you do and for any future topics I can address!