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An open letter from City of Ferndale Administrator Jori Burnett to the community

Ferndale City Administrator Jori Burnett sent the following to City Council members and when asked approved it for publication to the community as a whole.


As Great Britain prepared for the imminent invasion of their islands at the beginning of World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill began to label his most important orders with an “Action This Day” stamp, expressing both the immediacy of the directive and reflecting the urgency of the action. Nearly eighty years later, every one of us waits urgently to learn what new actions have been taken, this day. What progress has been made? When can we return to our normal lives?

Unfortunately, even as the curve of COVID-19 appears to be flattening in Whatcom County and Washington State, the hoped-for actions to return to normalcy have not yet taken place. This has resulted in frustration, blame, and most damagingly – an increased willingness to ignore the guidelines and orders that have been established (and which are working) to curb the spread of COVID-19. As the magnitude of the global shutdown becomes more clear, the impact of these decisions is felt more closely and more deeply.

As a small local government, we hear these (often contradictory) calls to take action:

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  • To close absolutely everything to eradicate the spread of the disease;
  • To open the economy back up immediately, as the risks to the economy are greater than the risks to life-safety;
  • To focus on specific industries, businesses, or projects;
  • To focus on anecdotal examples;
  • To rely on empirical or scientific evidence;
  • To hold the line on the Governor’s order;
  • To ignore the Governor’s order

Each day, the City is coordinating with the Washington State Governor’s office, our representatives in Olympia, other local governments, Whatcom County, and Whatcom Unified Command. The City has prepared a draft plan that is being shared with our representatives, identifying several dozen projects, initiatives, regulatory changes, and modifications that could be considered to get the Ferndale community back to work. The City is working with our counterparts at every level of government to make constructive, rapid, and responsible changes to this ever-evolving threat. Internally, the City continues to explore all options that are available to us to get the community back on its feet and to provide assistance to those who require it. To be perfectly frank and honest, this is a frustrating process: from a personal perspective, I want to be able to take decisive action each day, to cut through as much red tape as possible, and to make transformative change – each and every day. Each and every hour.

But our role as stewards of the public’s money and trust means that we must also balance these desires with an understanding of long-term impacts. Will a financial incentive ultimately burden those who can least withstand it the most? Will a decision to get a business or industry back to work threaten life safety? Will such a decision be inconsistent with another order, potentially subjecting businesses or individuals to fines and penalties, or the virus itself?

So ultimately, what does Action This Day, in this context, mean?

It means making the right decision, based on the best available information, today. And today, these actions mean continuing to coordinate with our partners in order to keep them as partners for the long term. Suggesting ideas, identifying issues. Advancing solutions. It also means being smart. We know fundamentally that the Best Action that we can take today is to Stay Home and Stay Healthy. To help our neighbors. For those of us who can, to shop locally and make local contributions to businesses and individuals who are suffering. Action This Day does not mean dismissing these best practices because we are frustrated, or because our good actions seem to be working, or to take unilateral action with the expectation that I, my loved ones, or my co-workers won’t get sick. This is not a crisis that is going to go away quickly, and the more that we seek to take decisive action against the best practices that have been identified, the longer we will perpetuate it.

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Action This Day means being smart, being patient, and being understanding. We all feel powerless. But we are not. All of us have a role to play. What will your Action This Day be?

  • Donating blood
  • Donating unused stimulus funds to the Community Resource Center or Ferndale Food Bank,
  • Making in-kind donations to Ferndale-based resources
  • Donating funds for utility bill assistance
  • Making masks for family members or friends
  • Spending locally
  • Ordering take out
  • Buying gift certificates
  • Wearing a mask when out in public
  • Shopping for your neighbor
  • Shopping alone
  • Checking in (remotely) with friends and loved ones
  • Celebrating our first responders, health care workers, and other front-line staff

Our actions this day will help determine the actions tomorrow.

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