Government at all levels is often labeled as being cumbersome to the point of inertia. And sometimes that label is deserved. But, over the last few days, Boone County demonstrated an ability to be nimble, responsive, and moving at warp speed to meet an emerging and serious need.
It began when the City of Columbia’s Utility Department announced that it would begin cutting off delinquent accounts on Monday, October 5, only days away. As we faced a weekend with temperatures dropping into the low 40’s, my e-mail inbox was quickly flooded with requests that the County help to find a way forward so that those individuals and families, already adversely impacted by the COVID pandemic, would not needlessly suffer further.
Members of the Children’s Services Board, school principals, and other community leaders were among those who called attention to the catastrophic blow that this would deal to families already pushed to the edge by COVID and limited resources.
Because the County Commission represents all of Boone County, not just those who live in the city of Columbia, Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill and I began by checking whether other utility providers here in Boone County were on a similar timeline as the City utility. Several emails to colleagues at Ameren revealed that Ameren had no immediate plans to cut off utility services and that, through the summer, they had been working with Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA). Since I serve on the CMCA Board, a call to Darin Preis, the Executive Director of CMCA, was only logical.
Darin quickly agreed that CMCA could serve as the administrator for CARES Act funding for utility assistance throughout Boone County, including for those facing imminent disruption of services in the City of Columbia. CMCA is uniquely qualified for this work. It has an extraordinary history of working in a transparent and accountable way with federal grant funding and it serves populations in need throughout central Missouri, including in Boone County.
We could not find a better partner.
During one of multiple conversations, Darin alluded to the contractual arrangement into which CMCA had entered with Callaway County for similar services, although on a much smaller scale than potentially would be the case in Boone County. Presiding Commissioner Atwill then quickly reached out to Callaway County Presiding Commissioner Jungermann to understand the process put in place in Callaway and to see if it could be replicated here.
Chad Martin, Boone County’s Director of Emergency Management, who is overseeing the online portal for CARES Act funding, CJ Dykhouse, Boone County’s Counselor, and Darin Preis were put in touch by phone and email so that they could collaborate and work out an agreement between the County and CMCA to help us ensure that CARES Act funding could be distributed quickly and equitably. Working evenings and through the weekend, these three readied the project to launch and by Tuesday, October 5, the agreement had its first reading at the morning Commission meeting. The required second reading is scheduled for Thursday, October 7 allowing CMCA to likely begin processing applications in the week of October 12.
It took one week. One week for multiple agencies to come together and create a solution to what could have been a catastrophic event for a host of individuals and families in Boone County. Instead of catastrophe, we will have used CARES Act funding to provide essential services for our county’s citizens in need, without compromising transparency or accountability.
Weeks like this make me proud to be part of Boone County government.