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Special District Leaders Discuss COVID Lessons-Learned and Next Steps


Welcome to the latest issue of The Districts, where we chronicle the people, issues and activities impacting special districts across the U.S.

News Staff / September 18, 2020

Welcome to the latest issue of The Districts, where we chronicle the people, issues and activities impacting special districts across the U.S. Our Special Districts Virtual Summit for the West Region brought together special district leaders from across the western U.S. to share lessons learned from the COVID response and discuss how these experiences are reshaping internal operations, citizen services and leadership strategies for the future.

More than 200 special district officials joined the live virtual summit on Aug. 25, which featured speakers from special districts that provide public transportation, library services, water, electric power, and parks and recreation services. Panelists offered a real-life look at how they are adapting to the realities of the post-COVID world. Key takeaways include:

  • Districts with modern technology -- robust networks, cloud platforms, digital documents and mobile devices -- had a relatively easy time moving non-essential staff to remote work.
  • Sensors and other Internet of Things devices are being repurposed to support social distancing requirements and other emerging needs.
  • Virtual meetings and public hearings implemented due to the pandemic have in some cases increased citizen engagement.
  • The uncertain post-COVID environment requires clear and consistent communication from special district leaders to employees about workplace policies, virus safety and future plans.
  • Avoiding burnout for remote employees is a growing concern. Special district leaders say they’re encouraging remote staff to take breaks and vacation days.
  • Leaders say they’re striving to support employees who are experiencing financial hardships, childcare struggles and mental health challenges due to COVID and the resulting economic downturn.
  • Districts are enhancing staff training to maintain engagement, preserve workplace culture and reskill displaced workers.

Watch the entire event here.

Don’t Miss These Upcoming Virtual Events

Make plans now to attend our two remaining virtual summits for 2020: Special Districts Virtual Summit Central on Sept. 17 and Special Districts Virtual Summit East on Oct. 7. These interactive two-hour events bring together special district leaders for important discussions on how internal operations, citizen services and leadership techniques are evolving to cope with post-COVID realities. Don’t miss your chance to connect and share insights with your peers across the nation.

Innovation Awards: Last Call

Time is running out to submit your nomination for a 2020 Special Districts Innovation Award. This year’s program showcases technologies and leadership related to COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. Tell us your story -- but do it fast. Submissions are due by Sept. 25. Choose from three award categories:

Technology Innovation: Citizens — Making services available online, sharing new information, deploying new engagement tools, etc.

Technology Innovation: Operations — Deploying remote work initiatives, reengineering business processes, enhancing security, etc.

Technology Innovation: Leadership — Recognizing special district officials who have led innovative and bold responses to COVID-19

District Spotlight: Transforming Transit Ticketing

The Monterey-Salinas Transit District, located on California’s central coast, found innovative ways to serve its community during the pandemic. As public transit ridership plummeted, the district redeployed resources to help feed hungry families and support remote learning.

“As a public service provider, you don’t restore your service just to restore your service, you try to identify where you can accomplish the most good,” says district CEO Carl Sedoryk. “Based on what we were hearing, we started doing a number of things.”

Over the summer, transit drivers and vehicles that would have otherwise been idle began helping Meals on Wheels in Salinas Valley to deliver 8,000 meals to seniors and persons with disabilities. The district also parked Wi-Fi equipped commuter buses in agricultural communities to provide hotspots for students who lacked connectivity for distance learning.

“We’d set them up in parking lots, and people could come in their cars and piggyback on our signal,” says Sedoryk. “We were out there every day during the end of the school year, and we’re ramping it up again as the new school year is starting.”

Read more about the district’s evolution.

More Articles Worth a Read

Here are more stories from special districts around the country. Share your own news with us for inclusion in the next newsletter.

Water districts in West Virginia are using Internet of Things devices to protect drinking water supplies. New tools automate monitoring and deliver real-time information to plant operators.

An August cyberattack may have compromised personal information for 9,300 employees at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. The attack also forced the district to shut down real-time arrival information for several weeks.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority in Florida launched an innovative on-demand ride service for area neighborhoods. Some routes will use open-air, six-passenger electric scooters.

GovTech Special Districts Program Report.

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