Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien spoke on the events of the last year and hopes for the future
CLARK COUNTY — The COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers, and the Charter Review Commission were all big ticket items in the virtual 2021 State of the County address given by Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien Tuesday evening.
“This past year has been very difficult for our community,” Quiring O’Brien said via a video recorded by Clark/Vancouver Television. “The pandemic has brought hardship to residents and local businesses. Our neighbors have lost jobs, they’ve struggled teaching their children with online formats and children have also struggled with no in-person classes. Some in our community have lost loved ones to this virus. Our community has been tested and tried over the last year, but the Clark County community is resilient.”
As a first order of business, the chair introduced Stephen Abramson, the chair of the Neighborhood Associations Council of Clark County (NACCC) for the Outstanding Clark County Employee Award for 2020.
Abramson explained that the award is usually presented to an employee who does his or her job a fair distance from the public eye, and thus deserves to be recognized. This year, however, the individual chosen is well known to many in the community: Clark County Public Health Director, Dr. Alan Melnick.
“During the measles epidemic of 2019, his department expended nearly 13,000 person hours in contact tracing, and other tasks relating to managing the outbreak,” Abramson said. “The magnitude of the current pandemic, of course, dwarfs what Dr. Melnick’s department faced in 2019. Nearly 19,000 cases of COVID and 236 fatalities have been identified in Clark County. I would ask that everyone join me in thanking Dr. Melnick and his excellent team in providing services that inform, educate and protect our people and help maintain the quality of life that makes Clark County a wonderful place to live.”
Melnick expressed great gratitude for the recognition, but was quick and eager to highlight the group effort of the entire team at public health. Other illnesses and diseases do not take a break from the community just because of COVID-19, he said, and many on staff had to split their focus on the pandemic and their normal duties.
“It’s a privilege to work in a community like this with the incredible partners that we have in our healthcare organizations, community organizations [and] schools,” Melnick said. “This has been an all out effort across the community. I also want to basically thank our Clark County Council, and our Board of Health for all the support they provided throughout this effort.”
Quiring O’Brien also spoke to the countless individuals who have made efforts to aid those impacted by the COVID-19 over the last 12 months. The chair thanked all first responders and frontline medical workers for taking on the brunt of the pandemic.
She also thanked Melnick and his team for diligently contract tracing and speaking with thousands of people each week, as well as providing $700,000 to families and individuals in need during quarantine.
Clark County Community Services also made it into the mix, with praise for Vanessa Gaston and her team which provided a quarantine shelter for unhoused persons with nine months of service to 270 people.
They also provided over $8 million in rental assistance to more than 1,700 households, and awarded over $1 million in grants and loans to over 220 businesses owned by low income persons, persons of color, women and veterans, Quiring O’Brien said.
The chair also thanked all county staff and volunteers for quickly adapting to the large changes caused by the pandemic, such as meeting entirely online.
The Commission on Aging was featured prominently in this regard, since they toggled with their 2020 agenda from focusing on community engagement and advocacy, to looking at the effects COVID-19 on seniors in Clark County, including access to food and supplies, housing challenges and the impacts of isolation.
“This is an example of how overcoming adversity leads to innovation,” Quiring O’Brien said. “I grew up in Clark County, and I know that volunteers are the backbone of this community. Clark County relies on volunteers to review and provide advice on many government processes. Members of our advisory boards and commissions spend countless hours studying and reviewing materials, meeting with each other and the public and then presenting their recommendations and advice to county leadership.”
The Charter Review Commission was also a key group mentioned, with some 15 members who continue to meet remotely. The newly elected body is tasked with making significant recommendations to council and residents for additions and edits to the charter; which is a constitution of sorts for the county.
Quiring O’Brien also thanked County Manager Kathleen Otto for her work in helping stabilize the county budget early on in the pandemic, when uncertainty about sales tax and other revenues was high. Through hiring freezes, eliminating non-essential spending and putting some general fund projects on hold, this was accomplished above expectations, she said.
“If I had to sum this state of county address in one word right now, it would be resilient,” she said in closing. “We’ll get out of this pandemic and having personally faced adversity in the past, I believe that we will be stronger because of it.”
To watch the full State of the County address, click on the YouTube video linked below.