Mayors of Utah Valley: Provo shines through challenges | Mayors of Utah Valley

Wayne Parker, the phenomenal Chief Administrative Officer of Provo City, wrote the following for our workforce in the city. It discusses key actions he witnessed as Provo City employees and residents adapted to events no one could have predicted. I thought his good overview deserved a wider audience. I share his pride and have never been able to thank him enough for his contributions to our city. Kudos to every Provo City employee and resident who has helped Provo not only survive the past 12 months but get stronger through them.

“When the building in the city center shook during the earthquake on March 18, 2020, our city became active. Our employees in the building gathered around each other to make sure that their employees were safe. Dick Blackham and the facility team gave the building a thorough check-out after the staff left the building to make sure it could be reoccupied safely. Our operations center team met most of the day to review the data and see how the city fared during the quake. And while we didn’t take the brunt of the quake this morning, our systems performed well, reminding me of how well we respond when there is a crisis.

“As the pandemic accelerated and intensified, we were all breaking new ground. The mayor and management team focused intensely on the city’s response to circumstances that changed daily. We haven’t ignored the problems the pandemic brought about, as some other agencies have, but we haven’t overreacted either. We worked together, investigated and reacted in such a way that we could react flexibly.

“Our budgets for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 had to be adjusted based on the best available information. The city’s operations were affected by a hiring freeze. The staff gave up some historical benefits to make sure we didn’t have to take layoffs or vacation days. We teamed up there as the financial problems associated with the pandemic became clearer.

“I’ve seen our dedicated city workers – especially those on the front lines – respond to the crisis with our usual compassion and professionalism. Our paramedics responded to any medical emergency and were unsure of the patient’s health. Our library staff provided resources to families when they moved to home school. Our electrical workers have coped with changes in electricity needs as more and more people worked remotely and attended school. And as always, we’ve kept clean water going, picked up trash and recycling, inspected new buildings, and treated wastewater to protect our environment.

“When testing for COVID-19 became an issue, the city rallied in partnership with TestUtah and the Provo Towne Center to create a drive-through testing site – the first in the county and one of the first in the state. We took an innovative approach that has become the model for other partnerships in the community’s response to the coronavirus.

“Our management team and elected officials responded to the ever-changing direction we had received from state, county and federal health officials. We followed this guide and balanced it with a desire to keep our facilities as open as possible in order to provide the necessary services to our residents. It was a difficult balancing act, but we did it. And we did it together.

“We created vacation programs, bought laptops and extra bandwidth, and updated our teleworking policy to allow many of our remote workers to do so.

“I watched our customer service reps at 311 call center handle so many calls and visits from residents with utility billing issues and treated all of our residents with respect and courtesy. When a new billing system was being rolled out in the middle of the pandemic, fate tossed them a big curve ball, but they handled it well and worked diligently to solve problems. The 311 Center was one of the superstars of the past year.

“Provo has the lowest median household income parish in our county, yet we’re by far the most generous, nonprofit parish in the country. Provo residents support each other, know their neighbors and offer help when needed. And we do that better than any other community I know.

“During the holidays, I kept watching Provo families adopt families who were less fortunate for Christmas – in greater numbers than ever before. A single family I know was given an entire Christmas holiday – including food, gifts, and cash – from an anonymous family when this single mother lost her job due to the pandemic. I watched people walk in and pay overdue utility bills from neighbors who couldn’t afford to keep up due to layoffs or job loss. These stories are repeated countless times in every neighborhood in Provo.

“And throughout all of this, we have remained strong, resilient, and compassionate. But that’s exactly what we’re doing in Provo. “

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