From the mayor: Keeping Edmonds running during COVID

Mayor Mike Nelson

When the pandemic hit Snohomish County, the City of Edmonds moved quickly to respond to this disaster to maintain the continuity of critical services running in our city.  Critical services include, the Wastewater Treatment Plant, stormwater systems, responding to 911 emergencies, maintaining park facilities, and managing our finances.

Unlike businesses, government can’t close. Why? Because this is a disaster and the government has had to operate not only to provide critical services to our community, but to take steps to manage this health crisis and protect the public.

In order to provide these critical services, we had to ensure our employees could be free from exposure to the virus.

How we responded

The response to this type of disaster is different from most kinds of disasters we are familiar with.  After a hurricane or an earthquake, the cavalry rushes in to the specific location to help. This disaster is different because it shook the whole world. Everyone needed the cavalry at the same time so there was no one else to respond.

For example, the City of Detroit learned this the hard way when it had to quarantine 1,000 police officers who were exposed to the virus. No one else was available to respond emergency calls. Can you imagine what would happen if that occurred in Edmonds?  There would be no police officers available to prevent crime and help those in need.

Realizing that we were on our own, that every city, county, and state needed resources for immediate help, we created staggered on-call shifts to ensure continuity of critical staff and services for our city.

We split teams in two and placed them on staggered on-call shifts, much like firefighters. We had approximately 40 employees on these staggered shifts. They received stand-by pay which is regular pay. The strategy is simple: if an actively working employee tests positive and we have to send the entire 16-person crew home that day to quarantine for 14 days, well, we then have an entirely healthy crew ready to go. We cannot go two weeks without police officers or without staff at the Waste Treatment Plant.  City government simply cannot carry out critical services if this happens.

Hazard Pay

We also provided hazard pay to city employees who were required to work during this emergency and could be exposed to the virus.  Any work-related exposure could easily be brought home by an employee to his or her family, especially since in half of the COVID cases, a person did not initially show any symptoms but was actively spreading the virus.

We recognized the unique role government plays in a disaster and recognized the unique risk to our critical frontline staff who were interacting with the public and could not shelter in place.

With those unique risks in mind, the City Council voted in support of a pay differential, which included hazard pay and standby pay for Edmonds City workers. Some, who reported to high-impact areas, received 6 percent hazard pay while they worked their 40-hour work week on site. Those with more limited exposure only received 3 percent hazard pay. Everyone who received hazard pay was working. Hazard pay was tied to the Governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.  We evaluated the City’s financial resources and made sure that the City could responsibly afford this additional expense in the budget.  Fortunately, Federal CARES Act disaster funding may be used to cover the costs of the hazard pay that has been paid to City employees.

It worked

The strategy we put into place worked.  Edmonds City Government has had only two positive cases.  This program protected our entire city and saved lives.

Since Day One, our 250 Edmonds City employees have kept your streets open, water flowing, toilets flushing, streetlights on, and responded to your emergency calls.  Government can’t close. We are proud of our healthy workforce who never stopped serving our community in this time of need.

— By Mayor Mike Nelson

7 Replies to “From the mayor: Keeping Edmonds running during COVID”

  1. I call BS – the city seems to run just fine, crisis or no crisis – the streets were open and my toilet flushed just fine in Jan so not sure what changed – seems like another money grab from my wallet – why no city layoffs while our smalls business laid people off – not all city employees are essential and some should have been laid off or furlough for 4-8 weeks just like Others have had to endure

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    1. Keeping the dog park locked has to be one of the most brilliant of decisions. They (dogs) still have to relieve themselves, their preference seems to be the grassy areas where people like to sit with their children to play, have lunch, etc.
      Observer, not dog owner!

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  2. I am thankful that things have run smoothly in Edmonds. Thank u to all city staff and employees for ur outstanding service. I am grateful to u now and as we continue to live in this time of pandemic.

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  3. To all of you, a BIG THANKS for continuing bringing a great service despite the difficult times we are going through. Thank you EDMONDS!!!

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  4. Thank you to the Mayor, Councilmembers, and all the department staff who have helped to make our city continue to run so well that many of us might take essential city services for granted. Please know that we know it has been challenging on all fronts and that we support innovation in how you have kept us safe in stay at home phase and during the reopen/reset phases. Glad to be a part of the Edmonds community. T.C. and Keith Richmond

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  5. Thanks to the Mayor, Councilmembers, and department staff who have worked under immensely challenging conditions to keep the city’s essential services running well. Please know that we are thankful to each of you for being innovative is keeping us safe during the stay at home phase and we support your innovations during the reopen/reset phases. We are proud to be a part of the Edmonds community. T.C. and Keith Richmond

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  6. We are so fortunate to have thoughtful, responsible management of our city in this unpredictable time. Thank you to our mayor, city council, and all city workers.

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