Building a Stronger, Healthier and More Vibrant City Amid a Pandemic
As the year comes to a close, and we take a moment to reflect on everything that has transpired since last January, pre-COVID-19 and throughout the pandemic, I thought it prudent to speak with Mayor Brainard about some of the most critical moments that continue to help shape our ever-evolving city, some of the lessons learned and what we can look forward to in the upcoming new year.
The mayor shared that the municipality’s departments have kept the city’s essential services “open for business” throughout the pandemic and have worked fervently at keeping these services operating without interruption. Brainard also shared that the city’s road construction and redevelopment projects have also continued without interruption as a result of the city’s early COVID-19 testing and contact tracing efforts.
While the mayor’s State of the City address was rescheduled for spring of 2021, at which time he plans on detailing the city’s fiscal health in great detail, he did share that the city took advantage of the favorable market conditions and low interest rates and refinanced several of the city’s bonds, including redevelopment bonds, which saves the city over $16 million in interest.
Looking back at how the city’s departments have functioned throughout the pandemic, what are some of the highlights that may have been overshadowed by news of the pandemic that you think deserve some praise?
We have got a great city staff, and they continue to work hard to provide essential services and keep everybody safe within Carmel. The city’s employees have done a tremendous job. When we went virtual back in March with all the city services, our IT department stepped up and made it so every employee had remote access from home so that they could still work and provide essential services to the public. Our EMS and public safety continued delivering services to the city, and our fire department has had COVID-19 public information booths set up in the parking lots of businesses around the city to distribute face masks, hand sanitizer, and to answer questions about COVID-19. When stores ran out of hand sanitizer, our street department learned how to make it and distributed it free to local businesses.
You mentioned that at the onset of the pandemic, the city didn’t wait for state resources to begin testing for COVID-19 and that the city partnered with a local laboratory to administer the early tests. What were some of the additional efforts that the city did to mitigate contagion and to get ahead of the virus’ surges?
We did our own contact tracing to speed up the time required to find out who needed to quarantine. When we discovered there were new ways to detect the virus in wastewater, we started testing our sewage for traces of the virus. This can give us about a 10-day advance notice of what’s going to happen at our hospitals because those virus levels spike up before people start going to the hospital with symptoms of COVID-19. This helps us and our hospitals in Carmel make better, informed decisions based on data.
To ensure the health and safety of our community, the city canceled several community events due to challenges related to the pandemic and the physical distancing requirements that the CDC issued, as well as the mandates issued by Gov. Holcomb. How difficult were these decisions to make, knowing there would be lost revenues not only for the city but for local businesses who benefit from the tourism?
It was a tough decision to cancel these events that are very special to our community, but it was the right decision to keep our community safe. The Carmel Christkindlmarkt, the Carmel International Arts Festival, among many others, have been such successes here in Carmel, but we knew that we could not conduct these events safely [and in accordance with physical distancing protocols] and generate the numbers that the organizing groups needed to break even. We didn’t want the community to remember a less than ideal experience either. So, with regards to Christkindlmarkt, we are taking this year off and are preserving our funds for next year. Plans are already in place for 2021, and we are only 11 ½ months away from opening the Christkindlmarkt, and that will come sooner than we think.
Mayor, you have been an advocate for civil rights and social issues before the death of George Floyd put systemic racism on a national—and global—stage. In addition to being one of a handful of police departments in the nation that is accredited by CALEA, what steps has the city and the Carmel Police Department made to improve its policies and procedures to ensure the fair treatment of all citizens of and visitors to our city?
In 2009, we started the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations to discuss issues and provide a place for people to go if they have a complaint or concern. We created a forum to raise these issues with me and with the community. We must all look at how we can make a difference every day and make the world, our country, our state and our city a better place.
In 1996, Carmel Police Department (CPD) was one of the first departments in the state to install dash cameras in every car, and it is required that the cameras be turned on in every interaction with the public. This protects both sides [the public and officers] of those human interactions. In addition, CPD was one of the first departments in Indiana to add body cameras to every officer. Those are also required to be turned on during every interaction with the public. CPD has worked hard over the last few decades to hire personnel that reflects the community it serves.
This must continue to be part of our everyday consciousness. For a city to be successful, it has to be a place that welcomes everyone, regardless of background, country of origin, race or religion.
As we look forward to 2021, what can we as a community do to assist the city in its efforts to keep our business community from faltering, our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and our neighbors and loved ones safe, until the vaccinations become widely available to the general public?
First of all, we can’t overwhelm our hospitals because not only will there be tragic deaths due to the inability to treat heart attacks, strokes and other emergency situations, in addition to COVID-19 patients, but we could have the possibility of another lockdown, and that’s going to hurt our business community even more. The best thing that we can do to help our business community, our neighbors and friends is to follow the rules. We know washing our hands, staying physically distant, wearing masks and not having large gatherings in our homes works. The inoculation of health care workers has begun, but we still have several months to go before enough people can be vaccinated to end this pandemic. In the meantime, we must take care of one another, help support our local businesses through online shopping, delivery or curbside pickup, and continue to come together as a community to make certain that our favorite restaurants and retailers will still be there when this pandemic is over.