Deptford Township Mayor Paul Medany is responsible for 32,000 residents over 18 square miles, as well as almost 800 businesses. So far, he hasn’t let the restrictions and guidelines, implemented over the last three weeks and intended to slow the spread of coronavirus, get to him.
“My mental outlook through all of this is great. I’m a pure optimist. Sometimes I think I push a little hard, especially with the six other people who work with me, but I try to keep everyone’s spirits up,” he said during a phone conversation with the Sun on March 31.
“We’ve never been through something like this before, but I think it’s good practice to focus on keeping our residents’ spirits up however we can. I’m worried about everybody else, but not me. I’m doing all right.”
Medany admits the daily grind of press conferences and ongoing rules and regulations can be difficult to navigate, but he’s learning from this constantly evolving situation. His administrative team was out ahead of things, and was prepared, to a degree, for what was to come.
“In Deptford, we have an Office of Emergency Management and an emergency center. We talk about things and we have certain contingency plans. We’ve obviously never covered a pandemic before, but we always have that communication in case something happens,” he explained.
“About three weeks ago, we saw the talk out of China and Washington state. We meet once a month, and it happened that our meeting occurred right around this time when the news broke. We already had a protocol in place by March 16. That’s when we started to close things down — closed the township building to all employees and enacted the social distancing rules we’re all familiar with.”
Reliance on electronics is more crucial than ever, and Medany says keeping the flow of information going is key to keeping his residents informed, safe, and on an even keel.
“As I said, communication is key and though we can’t do it face-to-face, we have to find other outlets, and the website is perfect for that. I make these messages and put them on the website every other day, and I try to make it as full of information as possible,” he offered.
“It’s very challenging. We have to let folks know we’re here. In addition to the messages on the website, I’ve invested in portable electronic signs that I’m placing in different neighborhoods — reminding people about all the protocols to help stop the spread.”
Medany revealed his biggest obstacle is the fact that he’s responsible for the continuation of so much commerce: from the mall itself, to its surrounding ventures, as well as hundreds of “mom-and-pop stores.” He related how, just two days after health-related closures began, a list appeared on the township’s website with all businesses and restaurants that would be open to the public.
“We did that so residents could have access to food in light of the crush of people going to big-box stores and just cleaning them out early on,” he said.
In keeping “100 percent of our operations open,” Medany told of how essential services are attempting to ward off sickness.
“The Police Department is doing split shifts now to protect their crews, in case something happens. Splitting up the times and the locations of different shifts. The Fire Department too, and other services, because they’re constantly on the front lines. Public Works is up and running, keeping themselves protected, because they deal with things like trash on a daily basis,” he said.
Although maintaining a positive outlook as a public official can calm the populace in times of trouble, that doesn’t mean things have been easy for the gregarious Medany, having to conduct business from a distance.
“It’s been very challenging. I’m a people person. I love to talk to groups. I even like driving around to keep on top of certain things. And I love talking about Deptford,” he lamented.
“It’s such a shame that we’re coming up on spring and better weather, where we traditionally have a lot of events planned. But, at the same time, we have to protect our residents, so everything is cancelled until further notice.”
Keeping spirits up in the present will also help Medany down the road, as the fallout from coronavirus eventually ripples across the township.
“I also have to stay focused on what happens when this all ends. I have a budget to finish. I think we’re OK for this year, but I’m worried about what’s going to happen in 2021. That’s when it’s all going to come due.”
For all up-to-date information about the township, and its ongoing response to coronavirus, visit www.deptford-nj.org/. On Facebook, the township site is @deptfordtowshipmunicipal.