In these unprecedented times, our elected officials are making difficult decisions that could have a dramatic impact on daily life. We’re all swimming in uncharted waters.
Yet, it’s important that those elected representatives continue to abide by best practices of good governance. During difficult times it’s all the more important to rely on protocols rather than veer off course.
Examples of decision-making in the wake of the COVID-19 spread raise such questions.
Last week, the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors appointed Dubuque oncologist Dr. Bobby Koneru as the county’s medical liaison for COVID-19 efforts.
Creating such a role isn’t a bad idea. And Koneru volunteered to fill such a role. But the process was troubling.
Supervisor Jay Wickham raised the issue after he said Koneru had approached him about it. This was news to Supervisor Ann McDonough, who often seems to be left out of the loop.
What would the duties of a medical liaison look like? Would this be a paid position — and if so, at what salary? How would the medical liaison’s role differ from and work with the county health department?
These are basic questions that supervisors did not answer before unanimously approving Koneru’s role. Since then, it’s been determined that Koneru will not be paid for his service.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 decision-making in Wisconsin was complicated — as decisions in Wisconsin government often are — by the powerful Tavern League. When
Illinois shut down bars and restaurants, Wisconsin wavered, instead declaring bars should limit capacity to 50% or 50 people, whichever was less, no doubt under the influence of the Tavern League. Then came Iowa’s bar shutdown, and President Trump’s recommendation that all gatherings be limited to no more than 10.
By that Tuesday afternoon (and St. Patrick’s Day no less), Gov. Tony Evers eventually ordered bars closed by that evening.
According to reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Tavern League didn’t necessarily support complying with the governor’s order. “That is not realistic as thousands of taverns and restaurants across the state have people in their establishments for St. Patrick’s Day celebration,” League officials wrote to members about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. “To kick people out in three hours would pose serious issues.”
Wisconsin officials have long kowtowed to the Tavern League. In this literal life and death matter, it shouldn’t be allowed to wield such clout.
While the Tavern League thought a few hours wasn’t enough time to close a bar, educators in Iowa were scrambling to figure out what to do with school districts when Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ closure recommendation came after 8 p.m. on a Sunday evening.
While Dubuque schools were just starting spring break, most others were not, and administrators were unsure when the closure was to take effect and whether they were impelled to follow the recommendation. Some Iowa districts held classes Monday, because of the lack of clear communication.
Making decisions in a time of crisis is onerous. While holding public office always comes with a share of headaches, the difficulty is amplified when public safety is in danger. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Officials must remember that at critical times, practicing the same rules of due diligence, transparency, avoiding outside influence and clear communication would go a long way toward effective governance.