City of Brantford CAO, Brian Hutchings only settled into his new role nine months ago and is now facing the challenge of managing a municipality through a pandemic.
An already challenging position at any time, Hutchings is now juggling a variety of additional concerns, from the disruption of city services, employees concerned for their health, and taxpayers looking for answers.
“It’s been a lot of hours and a lot of long days, but it’s been really fortunate that I have a great mayor to work with,” Hutchings says. “It’s been busy. For some staff it’s been business as usual, maybe working from home, but business as usual. But for many staff, it’s been 100 percent COVID-19.”
Hutchings says the majority of city departments have been working diligently to adjust programs and adapt, while always keeping health and safety at the forefront. “With the Health and Human Services Department, our caseload is up for applications to Ontario Works and community housing,” Hutching explains, as one example.
“I’ve always believed you have to manage three ways: manage up, down, and out. Up to the council. Down to the staff and out to the community. It’s really important to have that trifecta.”Brian Hutchings, City of Brantford CAO
“Now other things are coming in like federal infrastructure and provincial dollars,” Hutchings says. “That’s a whole process to apply to them along with trying to manage our budget so we’re not in a deficit because municipalities cannot go into deficits.”
Hutchings explains while planning the cancellation and/or re-opening of programs and maintaining communication with staff and the public has been important, the health and safety of city staff have always been a priority.
“For a while, we had daily emergency operations centre meetings every morning and on that agenda was employee health and safety, making sure they don’t get the virus, the best we possibly can,” Hutchings says. “We should be very proud that we have a joint emergency operations centre. We’re all looking at mutual aid, how we can help each other and share information. It’s worked out very well. The numbers show it.”
The city’s Emergency Management Planning Committee includes the health unit, hospital, school boards, police, paramedics, fire department, 56th Regiment, County of Brant, Six Nations of the Grand River, OPP, and Enbridge Gas.
“We’re doing very well in the Brant-Brantford area,” Hutchings adds. “We’re very fortunate. I think we have a lot to owe to our retirement homes and our long term care facilities and our public health unit for inspecting those. We have a great leader at the hospital in Dr. David McNeil. The community has some very strong leadership through this pandemic.”
As the province gradually allows business and services to re-open, the City of Brantford is following suit, however, Hutchings explains the process isn’t instantaneous. “The premier will announce something will open up and people expect that the next day without realizing we don’t know where the starting line is.” As an example, Hutchings says, “he’ll announce something on Thursday to open up this weekend, but it takes us four or five days because we didn’t know when that starting line was.” Hutchings adds new health and safety regulations for the use of amenities and services have required some additional time to implement during the re-opening process as well.
“We can only plan so much until the details come out and then we hit the start gate,” says Hutchings. “It’s a very difficult time to manage for everybody because you plan, plan, plan, wait, wait, new rules come out, change the rules, and then bang it’s announced.”
Despite the challenges, Hutchings notes the goal is always “to do the best for the Brantford community.”