Helen N. Robbins-Meyer

Chief Administrative Officer

As 2019 hummed along into 2020, the County was meeting or exceeding its goals. We were fortunate to have a solid foundation of reserves, stability in our priorities and a focus on building out a substantive continuum of care system to address the ever-increasing regional need for behavioral health services and homelessness. We also were undergoing substantive review and improvements in jail medical services and a complete transformation of how to care for juveniles touching our justice system and children in our foster care system. Our agenda was exciting and challenging. But no one could have predicted what was just around the corner.

Maybe we gleaned some sense of the unprecedented change coming with the rumblings of a novel coronavirus spreading from Wuhan, China in December of 2019. Or maybe it was the tragic killing of Ahmaud Arbery in February that reignited the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for social justice.  Either way, we were just starting to see the emergence of what would quickly shift our County focus and change the way we work and live.

The novel coronavirus became known as COVID-19 and turned into a full-blown worldwide pandemic. An incident command team was assembled overnight as we moved to swiftly declare a local health emergency on February 14, 2020. Public Health began leading a massive regional response, working around the clock to protect our residents and keep our hospital systems from being overwhelmed. By mid-March, the State issued a Stay-At-Home Order to minimize disease spread but also had the consequences of shutting down our previously thriving economy.  Massive unemployment followed and revenues plummeted while the need for public assistance skyrocketed.

"This time of history will now be recorded as before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. For us, you could call it  a tale of two counties."

Almost overnight we were forced to reevaluate how best to meet the needs of our region. We shifted to a virtual workforce and didn’t miss a beat. We continued critical services and transitioned to teleworking and ‘Zoom’ meetings. Capital projects were put on hold, a hiring freeze was implemented, and a reset button was pushed to start our FY 20-21 budget proposal over.

Decades of fiscal discipline had prepared the County for unforeseen events, allowing us to maintain critical services. Our rainy day funds and careful spending of CARES Act funding are helping us meet what is now our number one priority, protecting the health of our residents, but also enabling us to continue vital County services. 

And then came the horrific killing of George Floyd. The social justice movement exploded. So while continuing to meet the twin crises of a pandemic and an economic downturn, we added an entirely new focus: addressing racial equity, social justice and systemic racism. From law enforcement to hiring and promotional practices, the County is looking internally and externally at policies, training and actions to tackle these critical issues.

The County that began this past fiscal year is not the County that ended the fiscal year. It’s during these times when we realize that we truly need each other.  Our differences are what make us strong and we are stronger together. Together we are rallying and transforming to meet these challenges and fulfill the promises of a new future.