Borough mayor holds listening session to hear COVID-19 community concerns

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward held a listening session on April 29th, during which borough residents were given a chance to express their support and concerns regarding the borough’s handling of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The listening session took place from 6-8pm on Thursday, April 29th. (Alex Bengel/KTVF)

Alongside a panel of community leaders including Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly, North Pole Mayor Mike Welch and Chief Victor Joseph with the Tanana Chiefs Conference, Ward sough community feedback on the borough’s policy.

Jim Williams, Chief of Staff with the Fairbanks North Star Borough, worked behind-the-scenes to support the mayor during the session.

"On the technical side, the session presented challenges, involving the use of several different delivery methods. “I think it was successful,” Williams said, adding, “We definitely identified some areas for improvement.”

According to Williams, attendance on the Facebook event at one time reached 150. “A lot of folks in Fairbanks are pretty dialed in to what’s going on with COVID,” he said.

Comments contained a variety of content. Some callers voiced support for social distancing measures, while others urged that the economy needs to be opened up.

Williams said, “They have varying concerns, and we’re listening to all those concerns right now. You have some folks in the community that want more testing and stricter controls on keeping the disease from spreading. You got some folks that want to open up the economy.”

However disparate their opinions, Williams noted that their tone was consistently respectful. “Most people, whatever their views were, were appreciative that they had the opportunity to chime in, and I think they were appreciative that someone was actually listening to their concerns. And that was the intent.”

Kelly Nash, a small-business owner in Fairbanks, felt an urgency toward reopening businesses, saying, “I’m ready to rally. I’m ready to get people together. This has gone on far too long, especially because we are so remote. People are literally drowning here, financially and emotionally.”

Mike Mathers, another community member, spoke in favor of government enforcement of prevention guidelines. “We need our leadership to stand up and help guide us to make the right decisions,” he said.

A video of the session can be found on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Facebook page.

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