Canby mayor talks COVID-19 response
There's no chapter in the mayor's playbook that could have prepared Brian Hodson for the past few months.
Canby's mayor, much like the 300-plus mayors of various-size communities throughout Oregon, had to write his own chapter in the COVID-19 pandemic book. Hodson, like his fellow mayors, has been penning plenty of pages as the pandemic rolls into July.
"This thing has been a multitude of feelings and emotions," Hodson said. "It's been interesting, it's been frustrating, it's been a new challenge that I don't think anyone could have prepared for."
But as Canby's mayor, Hodson understood that he had a role to play, a role that has changed and developed in the months since things ground to a semi-halt. And it hasn't been easy.
"I've run into four of the last five (Canby) mayors and all four of them essentially said, 'I feel for you,' and 'Better you than me,'" Hodson said chuckling. "Fortunately, I've got about 300 other mayors going through the same thing. There's been a lot of commiserating with other mayors on this thing."
But commiserating doesn't solve problems or fix issues, which is something Hodson said he's been focused on from the start. And to do that, he has gotten some help he said has been invaluable, noting the contributions of interim city administrator Amanda Zeiber and Fire Chief Jim Davis.
"They have been amazing," he said. "They hit the ground running and have been in constant communication and helped us to adjust to what is coming down. I give a lot of credit to them for what they've done — and Police Chief Bret Smith. They've been tremendous."
As the pandemic picked up steam and cities began to feel the disruptions that led to shutdowns, Hodson saw his role as being a positive and calming voice amid the COVID cacophony.
"I've tried to be very glass half-full," he said. "I'm very much an optimist. I've been doing a lot of cheerleading and staying as positive as I can. I think it was important for me to show the optimism and keep us moving forward as we get back to defining what normal is."
But there are times it has been hard to stay positive and reflect that in dealings with the Canby community. The information coming from the state and federal government, each with their own cadre of medical experts, often contradict each other. Finding a middle ground that makes sense and is effective has been a struggle at times.
"Even right now, with mandatory masks — what is each person's right to wear or not wear them," Hodson said.
And always in the distance is the prospect of what the future might hold. It's murky and unclear, though Hodson said he and his team are doing their best to gain some visibility. But it's not easy. And there are parts of the equation from the governor's office that are frustrating him.
"I've been outspoken about getting back to something that's normal and letting our businesses run their businesses," he said. "Trying to be mayor of a city at this time, and also do my day job with a population that is most vulnerable, forces me to balance the adjustments in both those worlds. It has been a lot of long hours for sure.
"Numbers are going up and I've been very disheartened with the governor's decision to lump Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties together," he added. "Because we're tied to those other counties, we can't move forward. That's been frustrating."
He cited Canby's per capita COVID-19 numbers as being tops in Clackamas County, but noted that the majority of those cases are from one facility. The city as a whole is doing well. Clackamas County's numbers have remained fairly steady over the past week or two, much lower than Multnomah and Washington counties, but being tied to those other counties hampers towns like Canby, Molalla, Estacada and others from moving forward.
"Going forward, I'm working on a letter to the governor's office about trying to break Clackamas County off and treating it as its own entity," Hodson said. "I'd hate to see us rolled back into another shutdown, which I think will create a tremendous backlash and anxiety that people haven't experienced yet. But, that's just my opinion."
Hodson said he believes Canby has, for the most part, done very well in managing things and having its citizens and business community respond.
"We have a tremendous business community, and I'm encouraged by the passion they have for this community," he said. "It's heartbreaking because they have put their entire lives into their businesses and to not hear about unemployment or not get grants or funding from the PPP program, those things break my heart.
"We just have to remain positive," he added. "It would be very easy to go negative and get down. We need to keep on keeping on and find those positives every day to keep going."
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