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Ask Us: How have city, county governments shown leadership during pandemic?

Editor’s note: Ask Us is a weekly feature published online Mondays and in print on Tuesdays. We’ll seek to answer your questions about items or trends in Rowan County. Have a question? Email it to askus@salisburypost.com.

SALISBURY — Commissioners and members of the City Council are expected to lead by example during the coronavirus pandemic in addition to steps such as directing funding for new programs and setting policy, said Board of Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds and Mayor Karen Alexander.

“I think we have to be supportive of management and give management direction. We’re certainly responsible for the funding,” Edds said. “Then, we also show leadership in how we interact with the community. Every time I see commissioners out in the community, without exception, they are leading by example.”

Alexander said local leaders have to be mindful about whether they are modeling the correct behavior, including wearing a mask. When Barnhardt Jewelers celebrated its grand opening in November, Alexander said she opted not to post a picture online in which she removed her mask for a few moments because of the reception it might receive.

“You have people who talk a good game but really are not personally committed to it. I just think that it’s important to model what’s correct,” Alexander said.

Edds’ and Alexander’s answers came in response to questions from readers about city and county leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, including whether they were doing enough.

Edds said a number of steps taken by the county haven’t been publicized or may have slipped from the public’s conscious. That includes holding daily, and now weekly, meetings via Zoom that included health officials, emergency services and elected leaders at various levels. During meetings, health and emergency services leaders communicated relevant information about the virus’ effect in Rowan County.

The county also created a centralized supply hub for items like personal protective gear; spoke regularly with leaders at local hospitals to learn about the availability of beds, ventilators and other equipment; created a billboard campaign to encourage mask wearing and getting vaccinated; provided free testing opportunities; hosted mask giveaways; and invested millions in federal funding into programs like expanding the availability of fast internet in rural areas.

Edds said that “hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll” has been focused exclusively on COVID-19.

He said county leaders have to be mindful about public perceptions, too.

“We’ve sure got a lot of leaders who create a lot of rules that don’t live by them,” he said. “A lot of businesses are being destroyed. A lot of emotional stress and havoc is created and then we see all over the country where these same people don’t live by the same rules that they pass down on other people. If you don’t see us on the front page of the Salisbury Post, it’s not because we are not exercising caution.”

Alexander said the city created a plan to protect its staff by thinking carefully about how it renders services. Some city offices have been shut down, with the public asked to call, email or interact with offices online. Council meetings have remained digital throughout the pandemic, even as some elected officials have returned to in-person meetings.

She noted county commissioners and the city council passed resolutions in support of mask wearing, social distancing and washing hands regularly as well as avoiding crowding places, close-contact settings and confined spaces.

Alexander said she wears a mask to protect other people and that there are people with extreme viewpoints on both sides.

“I think that people in general are going to do it, and that you don’t have to pit citizens against citizens,” she said.

She said police officers have been focused on educating people first rather than enacting penalties for violations of the governor’s orders because of the difficult position that it puts officers in and that resources are tight.

Alexander said she would like to return to in-person meetings at Salisbury City Hall, but adhering to the governor’s guidelines would mean only a few citizens could attend.

“It will be very difficult to determine which three citizens could join us at this point,” Alexander said.

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