Woodfield Mall: CLOSED.
Schaumburg Convention Center: CLOSED.
Major office buildings, local retail
outlets and factories: CLOSED.
This is the story of the COVID-19 crisis in Illinois’ second-largest economic development center, the Village of Schaumburg.
Yet, while all these entities are closed, the local government is still open and working hard for the village’s residents, keeping them safe and secure. And at the tip of that public service sword is the Village Manager of Schaumburg and NIU alumnus Brian Townsend, ’92, M.P.A. ’94. He is one of those unsung heroes of this crisis.
Townsend leads the village and its 700 public servants who make sure that critical resources are still available to residents, ensuring reliable utility services, providing emergency response, sharing vital public health information, and most importantly, helping those in need.
Many of Townsend’s work responsibilities remain the same while expanding to a 24-hour-a-day awareness during the crisis. He still communicates with elected officials, coordinates crisis activities among village departments, and provides oversight on mission-critical village programs. The pandemic, however, has resulted in extraordinary changes for the management of the village; and Townsend has answered the call of duty.
Townsend has deferred many of the “normal” projects in favor of a focus on the critical, knowing that those “normal” projects will resume as the crisis ends.
“We are navigating difficult times without an understanding of the magnitude this pandemic will impact,” Townsend said. “We continue to monitor and make adjustments knowing that we must also stay focused on the vitality and future of the village.”
All mission-critical resources remain functioning as they must, despite the fact that revenue to the village has been severely reduced. As a result of the crisis, the village has lost $25 million in income (projected as of April 10) and that number grows each day.
“Retail, hospitality, office and manufacturing sectors all play a key role in providing employment and generating economic activity in the region.”
His goal is to reverse that trend as soon as possible. Immediate actions have been required to reduce expenses and conserve cash to better cope with the costs of an extended economic slowdown. Despite the crisis, vital services need to be provided. Businesses provide the tax base to support government services and the local government must provide the environment where businesses can prosper. It’s a precarious balancing act in the best of times.
And yet, at the heart of it, there are bright spots. Communication has taken on greater importance as residents, village employees and elected officials need to stay abreast of community issues, needs and implications. The village website is updated continuously, and email blasts are being sent on a more frequent basis to all residents.
And there continues to be good news stories. Donations to the Community Assistance Fund have increased, a true spirit of residents helping residents in times where the government can’t be expected to do it all. Programs like Neighbors Helping Neighbors have stepped in to aid residents when facing water shut off.
A positive consequence of the crisis is that Townsend is interacting with his region-wide colleagues more often, sharing experiences, best practices and drawing intelligence that will help everyone.
It has been incredible to see the way city and village managers in our region are collaborating during this time of crisis.
Finally, Townsend draws on his education from NIU.
“The foundation of professional, ethical, and management training I received (from NIU) is benefitting the employees, residents and local government partners,” Townsend said. “We are looking at this situation as an opportunity to improve the resiliency of local government services.”
“We must reflect on what could have been done differently to ensure that response to our citizens is improved.”
Certainly, that’s what unsung heroes do.