MONTCLAIR, NJ (April 24, 2020) –Peter Yacobellis, candidate for Montclair Councilor-at-Large, has released the following statement on Montclair’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis and a 7-point plan outlining COVID-19 recovery priorities at the municipal level:
The protests against the social distancing orders and business shut-downs that state and local governments have enacted to stem the spread of the coronavirus has intensified the unfortunate and dangerous political divide surrounding government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Fueled by conspiracy theorists and an irresponsible denial of science, the movement has frighteningly found support among elected officials – such as the governors who have announced plans to re-open their states, despite the objections of the mayors in their states in some cases. Whether or not these elected officials truly deny the threat of the pandemic or are knowingly risking the health and lives of their residents for political pandering, is impossible to know. It is also hard to say which motivation is more disturbing.
A lack of coordination and cooperation between local, state and federal agencies and governments during emergencies is not surprising or new, but the public feuding among Donald Trump and the nation’s governors and mayors is somewhat unprecedented. Donald Trump is confoundingly encouraging the anti-government protests while expanding federal restrictions and appearing to think that the re-openings are a bad idea. In New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy has been vigilant in enforcing stay at home and social distancing measures in localities that are resisting these life-saving measures, the cooperation of local governments, and the capabilities of local governments to respond effectively to this crisis, has been crucial.
During Super Storm Sandy, I oversaw Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s hurricane command center in New York City and experienced first-hand the vexing challenges of coordinating local, state and federal efforts. I also learned how vital that coordination is to managing and recovering from a crisis, and the crucial role played by local authorities. For Montclair, as well as all of New Jersey’s municipalities, recovering from COVID-19 is going to require and demand a proactive and robust response at the municipal level.
As a densely populated suburban, commuter community, Montclair has been deeply impacted by COVID-19, with 308 cases and 34 deaths as of April 21st. While we are all still adjusting to the new normal of our everyday lives, we need our government to be planning now for how our community will meet the enormous challenges ahead—returning students to school, restoring our small business community in the face of what could be a dramatically altered economy, reopening community and recreation programs and public events under new public health protocols; all while considering that this disease will likely return in the winter months. What long-term changes in our community life can we expect or predict, and what will this new reality require from government?
If we can all be hopeful that the next phase of the pandemic is re-opening and recovery, here is what our government should do now:
- Draft a master crises management plan to help re-open Montclair, based on the White House and CDC’s “Opening Up America Again” plan.
- Make sure all municipal departments are working now to procure the supplies they need for re-opening and developing strategies for how to operate with permanent social distancing guidelines in place (e.g. sanitization standards, signage for mask and distance requirements, plexiglass barriers for service counters, six-foot spaced markers for floors).
- Automatic Opt-in of Montclair residents to the town’s Swift911 emergency notification text and email systems.
- Begin budgetary planning to accommodate what could be a 10 percent revenue reduction (based on the 2009 financial crises).
- Form a COVID-19 commission that includes the township leadership, municipal department heads, faith leaders, medical professionals, Business Improvement District leaders and representatives from commissions and citizen organizations to get government, non-profits and the private sector working together now and to plan for a possible resurgence of COVID-19 later this year.
- Appoint dedicated liaisons to state and federal government to relay real-time information on aid and support. These liaisons should be members of the task force.
- Hire a grant writer for the township to help apply for grants from government agencies and private foundations, as Deputy Mayor Robin Schlager has suggested.
Like my years with Governor Cuomo, I now find myself, in the private sector, leading my company’s task force to adapt to COVID-19, open our offices and resume operations in this new world. This daily interaction with some of the brightest minds in science and medicine, paired with my experience in crisis governance, is the unique expertise and preparation I can offer to help Montclair emerge from this crisis stronger than it was before.
Montclair’s May 12 municipal elections are being conducted entirely by mail in ballot due to the coronavirus crisis. Ballots have begun arriving in mailboxes and must be returned by May 12, 2020.