Dealing with a pandemic as a business owner, mayor or as president of GMA was not on my radar at the beginning of the year. Its impact on us and our cities has been swift and profound. As I move on from my year as GMA president, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about the time we’re in.
I’m reminded of Morgan Freeman’s character Red in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.” Paroled after serving 40 years in prison, he finds it difficult to navigate his “new normal” and wishes he could do something to get him sent “back where things make sense.” Like Red, I suspect we all wish we could go back before COVID-19 hit, when everything made more sense. That can’t happen, so as Red learned, we must move forward fueled by hope for the future. There are plenty of things to give us hope.
We as a society have a much greater appreciation for the work of medical professionals and our front-line public safety providers. Those that had to take a more active role in their children’s education while at home now have a greater appreciation for the work of teachers. And I believe we have a much deeper appreciation for grocery store workers, public works employees and those that make and deliver items we need, to name just a few, in our interconnected economy. This newfound appreciation and understanding of the value of the services these people provide gives me hope.
It was with immense pride that I saw city officials from across the state—urban and rural and with differing political persuasions—step-up and make incredibly difficult decisions in the face of COVID-19. Since day one local officials have exhibited exemplary leadership that balances the needs of the individual with those of the common good. What you and your cities have done, and continue to do in response to this crisis, gives me hope.
The work of Gov. Kemp’s COVID-19 Municipal Advisory Committee has also been a bright spot. The insight of the city officials on this committee has been solid and well thought out. While not every one of its suggestions has been implemented, many have. Different levels of government can work together on pressing issues in a non-partisan manner when we embrace working for the common good. This, too, gives me hope.
Finally, I can’t say enough about our association and our staffs work over the last few months. With their lives upended, they have remained dedicated to serving the needs of cities. From providing legal and operational advice and insight to ongoing day-to-day services, GMA staff have been there for us. Them having our backs gives me hope.
Friends, COVID-19 is a sobering reminder of our vulnerabilities, both as individuals as well as institutions actively engaged in a democratic society. While some weaknesses have been exposed, the pandemic has also highlighted our strengths and the best in us. And for that I am truly grateful…and hopeful.
This article appears in the May/June 2020 edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.