Hilliard City Manager Michelle Crandall said she is "lucky" to have staff members to help the city through the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – a challenge after only a few weeks on the job that no one likely could have predicted.
Crandall said she is taking a "one-day-at-a-time" approach during the pandemic.
She was sworn in as Hilliard's first city manager Jan. 2. Voters in 2018 amended the city charter to change Hilliard's form of government from a strong-mayor model to a city manager.
"When I chose city management as a line of work, you expect to deal with crises," Crandall said. "It has certainly been a challenge, but Hilliard is fortunate to have such quality leadership that has stepped up in this difficult time."
Crandall said many employees have pitched in over the last few weeks, but she did not want to single out anyone. The city is "fortunate to have a talented leadership team that is able to respond quickly and creatively to the needs presented by this pandemic," she said.
She also credited the "strong network in our region" among communities, which includes the Central Ohio Mayors and Managers Association.
"We have learned a lot from each other," Crandall said. "Because our communities share the same missions, we frequently share best practices, ideas, policy wording and other materials with each other."
Hilliard has shared how it moved its public meetings to a virtual environment, implemented programs that support local business and created an online professional-development program for employees working at home, Crandall said.
In exchange, the city has received tips from other communities, she said.
"Hilliard has benefited from the work of other communities, specifically Worthington and Delaware, in developing some of our temporary personnel policies," Crandall said.
As the city's emergency-management director, a power Hilliard City Council granted her March 16 to help the city operate during the pandemic, Crandall has issued a number of orders, including a mandate that nonessential employees work from home, aligning with the state's stay-at-home order in effect through at least May 1 to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Crandall is one of the few city employees who is continuing to report to the Hilliard Municipal Building, which, along with every other city office and facility, is closed to the public until further notice.
"I feel like I need to be here," said Crandall, who likened her presence to that of a ship's captain. "The work of the city must continue. We must maintain critical public services."
Crandall said she draws from overseas experience gained while working for the city of Dublin, where she rose through the ranks to become assistant city manager before arriving at Hilliard.
"I have friends and colleagues all over the world," she said, made while she traveled to conferences and workshops over the past two decades.
As a member of the International City and County Management Association, Crandall said, she had the opportunity to travel and learn from other local-government leaders.
"Many of these experiences solidified my view of how important community engagement is in building a trusting and collaborative partnership between a local government and its residents," she said.
While at a conference in the Dominican Republic three years ago, Crandall attended a presentation on how the country had responded to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
"There was a lot of discussion about handling the epidemic," she said. "It was eye-opening to realize such a crisis was possible and that while you can plan for such a situation, you can't anticipate every contingency."
Tim Kauffman, executive director of Destination Hilliard, the local organization charged with promoting the city, said Crandall has shown "tremendous desire to understand the challenges and opportunities the community faces" by learning about the organizations and families that call Hilliard home.
"There is a real sense of collaboration and the city is well served by her leadership," Kauffman said.
Even though much has been addressed during the coronavirus pandemic, much more work remains to be done, Crandall said.
"As we get through the most immediate challenges this pandemic presents, there will be other secondary challenges that will need to be addressed – some known and some unknown," Crandall said.
The pandemic will cause many nonessential projects to be postponed, and after it passes, the repercussions, not the least of which likely will be financial, must be faced, Crandall said.
But the pandemic experience might help to solve these issues, too.
An emergency "puts things in perspective" and at the same time "solidifies our team even more," Crandall said.
"Our success in the coming years will be grounded in our ability to come together with a shared spirit to heal and to rebuild as an engaged and connected community," she said. "When we come out of this, we will be even better prepared for the next challenge."