By Bob Francis, ICMA-CM, City Manager, City of Belle Isle, Florida
I manage the City of Belle Isle, Florida. It’s a small city with a small staff. Belle Isle is mostly surrounded by Orlando, so we see big city issues spilling over in our community. This pandemic has certainly taken its toll on our lives. For my staff, especially the first responders and public works crew, this time brings uncertainties and fears for their families as well as the anxiety of seeing their friends lose their jobs or get laid off due to budget cuts. Everyone is suffering from some sort of stress and morale problems. These employees are the backbone of the city government and they must be cared for because they keep the city safe and operating.
As City Managers, we are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of every city employee. I think we all genuinely care for them and work hard to get them the best equipment, training, and benefits that we can. During normal times, we have plenty of interaction with our employees. In Belle Isle we get together frequently to enjoy each other’s company including Friday pot luck lunches, celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, buying a new home, and promotions, but we haven’t been able to do these things in person lately. Conference calls and visual meetings just don’t carry the same impacts.
Since many residents are working from home, they have the opportunity to see city employees on a daily basis. So I reached out to the community via social media and let the community know the sacrifices that the employees are making during this difficult time. I’ve asked residents that when they see any city employees to maybe walk outside and thank them or maybe just the offer of a bottle of water goes a long way. It took very little prodding on my part to get results. It’s not a surprise to me knowing our community, but certainly heartwarming to see residents rally around city employees to lift their spirits and show how much they are appreciated. The residents continue to make simple gestures to show how much they care about their city employees like offering that bottle of water, bring them a pizza or snacks, or just taking a walk outside to say hello or thank you. These actions have done much more for the employees’ morale and to uplift their spirits than anything I could do. At some time in the future, we will once again get back to normal but until then, although they are still worried about COVID, they know how much the residents of Belle Isle appreciate them during these rough times.