Welcome to the latest issue of The Districts, where we chronicle the people, issues and activities impacting special districts across the U.S.
In December, we wrapped up the 2020 Special Districts Awards program -- our biggest yet. The awards, which last year focused on how districts responded to the COVID-19 crisis, drew almost 300 nominations from special districts across the nation. In all, we recognized 45 winners in three categories: technology innovation to serve citizens, technology innovation to improve internal operations and overall leadership during the crisis. This special issue of the The Districts highlights some of the winning entries. We’ve updated the Special Districts Program homepage to showcase all the 2020 award winners, so be sure to jump online to read their inspiring stories.
St. Louis County Library: The large-scale shift to remote learning during the pandemic magnified inequities in technology and internet access. In response, the St. Louis County Library used $4 million in grant funding from the county government to launch a digital equity initiative that provides remote learning resources to under-equipped school districts. Through the program, the library purchased and distributed 10,000 Wi-Fi hotspots and 2,500 Chromebooks to 39 school districts.
Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority: When the pandemic hit, public transit districts faced the challenge of maintaining the operation of vital transit systems while protecting the health of riders and operators. Cap Metro in Austin, Texas, deployed real-time passenger capacity alerts through its mobile app and digital message boards to inform riders when an arriving bus reaches 50 percent seating capacity. Real-time passenger counts also are provided to bus operations and dispatchers so they can add more vehicles to reduce crowding and provide for social distancing.
Central Arkansas Library System: The pandemic caused widespread economic hardship, resulting in food insecurity for many families. The Central Arkansas Library System’s Be Mighty campaign mobilized a network of community partners and volunteers to distribute more than 750,000 meals to families in Pulaski County. The system also made information available online, listing meal sites and serving times as well as providing an interactive map.
Cordova Recreation and Park District: Our The need for social distancing forced districts to rethink community engagement activities normally conducted in person. California’s Cordova Recreation and Park District launched a virtual outreach campaign to share the groundbreaking for a major renovation of the district’s aquatic center. The campaign included drone footage of the groundbreaking ceremony, and it will continue to provide aerial imagery to update residents as construction continues.
Philadelphia Parking Authority: Safely bringing staff back to the office is a critical concern for special district leaders. Richard Dickson, first deputy executive director for Philadelphia Parking Authority, created a playbook to guide the return of 50 percent of the authority’s staff to physical offices on any given day. The effort includes implementation of contact-free time clocks, physical workstation dividers, Infrared thermometers and RFID badges, as well as creation of an online video “walking tour” for workers to view before returning to the office.
Western Monmouth Utilities Authority: Information sharing was an important part of navigating the disruption of 2020. Brian J. Valentino, executive director and CEO of the Western Monmouth Utilities Authority in New Jersey, launched weekly coordination meetings with other regional sewerage authorities in Monmouth and Middlesex counties when the pandemic hit. The group shared information on staffing levels, testing procedures, travel policies, funding opportunities, office modifications, virtual public meetings and the availability of personal protective equipment. It also helped state government officials create COVID-related guidelines and legislation.
You can find information about all 45 Special District Award winners on the Special Districts Program homepage. And watch for information coming soon on how to submit your nomination for a 2021 award.
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