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Special Districts Summit East

Our Eastern Region Virtual Summit brought together special district leaders for a conversation about leading through disruption, reimagining citizen services and internal operations, and preparing for evolving demands.

Key Takeaways

More than 90 special district leaders joined the live virtual summit on Oct. 7, which featured speakers from housing authorities, parks commissions, water and power utilities, transit authorities and fire districts. Panelists shared lessons learned from the COVID-19 response and offered insights into how special districts are adapting management techniques, technology strategies and leadership approaches to meet the needs of a post-COVID environment.

Key Takeaways from this important conversation include:

  • COVID-19 increased first-responder workloads and expenses: The Greater Naples Fire Rescue District in Florida has seen a consistent 15 percent increase in emergency call volume since the pandemic hit in March. Responding to each call also is more expensive due to personal protective equipment and staffing changes needed to keep employees safe.
  • COVID-driven investments have long-term benefits: New technologies purchased to meet immediate remote work or virtual service requirements can ultimately be repurposed to support lasting changes in the way special districts run internal operations and serve customers, says AT&T Principle Architect Michael Herrod.
  • Crisis communications must happen at a new pace: Bruce Moeller, a former fire chief and city manager who now consults with local governments on public safety issues, says governments must communicate with citizens on COVID and other disruptive events at the speed of social media. “There’s no longer a 24-hour news cycle; today it’s second-by-second,” he says
  • It’s a new world for managers and leaders: Multiple panelists said managers must be sensitive to pressures facing remote workers – which range from relentless workloads to new home-schooling and childcare responsibilities. Brian Benn, CIO for the Atlanta Housing Authority, recommends managers be results-oriented and flexible about employee schedules. “We’re simply asking staff to be available, do your job and overcommunicate,” he says.
  • District leaders shouldn’t waste this crisis: Several panelists pointed out the importance of reflecting on lessons learned during the pandemic. They recommended documenting actions taken during the COVID response -- and noting what worked and what didn’t – to inform decision-making during future disruption.
  • Remote workers have different IT support needs: John Daane, IT director for the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority in Florida, discovered newly remote staff had different – and often more fundamental – support needs than they did in the office. “They needed help connecting to their network and configuring printers – the stuff we always took care of in the office,” he says. “We learned to ask them very basic questions and we created lots of ‘how-to’ documents.”
  • Innovation may not require new investment: The Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission in South Carolina leveraged its existing financial system to let temporary summer job applicants apply online. The solution enabled the commission to safely hire temporary workers in time for the summer season. “We had to operate without face-to-face contact and we had to use existing systems because we had no budget,” says Gina Ellis-Strother, the commission’s chief administrative officer.
Brian Benn, Chief Information Officer and Sr. Vice President, Atlanta Housing Authority

Yvonne Carney, Strategic Performance Director, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC)

John M. Daane, MBA, Director of Information Technology, Emerald Coast Utilities Authority

Gina Ellis-Strother, Chief Administrative Officer, Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission

Michael Harrod, Principal Architect, Shared Solutions, AT&T

Robert Hicks, Chief Operating Officer, Delaware River Port Authority

Bruce J. Moeller, PhD, former Chief of Staff and Assistant County Administrator, Pinellas County

Jeff Nehila, Executive Director, Deerfield Park District

Sree Pulapaka, VP Chief Information Officer, San Antonio Water System

Charles Thompson, Chief Information Officer, Port Houston

Dustin Haisler, Moderator, Chief Innovation Officer, Government Technology

Steve Towns, Moderator, Deputy Chief Content Officer, e.Republic

Click here to access the slides presented during the summit.

To join us at an upcoming Virtual Summit, visit our event page to register.