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New London forms committee to tackle COVID-19 recovery

New London — The COVID-19 pandemic has unearthed what Rev. Ranjit Mathews says are structural inequities severely impacting a segment of the city's population.

“It’s shown up in a powerful way,” said Mathews, rector at St. James Episcopal Church in New London.

One example is the lack of access to high speed internet service in an age when so many things have gone online.

Mathews, alongside resident Seanice Austin, is leading a new health and human services subcommittee focused on identifying and solving issues associated with the pandemic. His group is one of seven subcommittees in the city’s new Long Term Recovery Committee.

Much of the work is still in the planning stages but Mathews said part of the task will be to look not only at immediate needs but develop a strategy to look towards the future to ensure “we’re not just going back to what we had before.”

Mayor Michael Passero has appointed leaders of the committees to tackle a wide range of issues facing the community. Subcommittees include education, business and economic development, local and state government, public safety, recreation, education and tourism, arts and transportation. Maggie Clouet, a school nurse and former administrator, said she accepted the position of recovery coordinator as a way to give back to the city she loves.

Clouet said the group’s findings could help open the door to state and federal resources. Some of the ideas could show up as local initiatives to be taken up by the City Council. Clouet said the community will be heavily involved in the development of ideas. 

“The main goal is looking at unmet needs without duplicating services,” Clouet said.

The idea for the group comes at the urging of Gov. Ned Lamont, who in April called on local governments and community partners to join together and establish committees to help coordinate with state efforts.

The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments has similarly partnered with its northern counterpart, the Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, and the state’s Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security to put together an Eastern Connecticut Regional Recovery structure which includes a steering committee and a number of topic-specific subcommittees. SECCOG has a website with some early materials from its work, including the steering committee membership:

Passero said while the city would be represented on the regional committee, he decided it was important for the city to have its own, being is a unique position of, among other things, hosting so many social services agencies and being an economic driver for the region.

Each of the subcommittees has been paired with a city administrator for support. The groups are still in the early stages of enlisting membership.

Kenneth Edwards, a retired New London police captain and inspector with Division of Criminal Justice, is leading the public safety committee and said he is gathering a broad and diverse group of participants to look at everything from business to crime.

He said some initial ideas are to find out how businesses are dealing with regulations in place because of the pandemic and whether the city should be looking to codify some of those rules. In the area of public safety, he said it appears the epidemic has led to an increase in domestic violence calls and wondered how that was being handled. He expects Safe Futures to be part of that conversation.

“I think that this could go in a lot of different directions,” Edwards said. “We’ll be inviting a lot of people to participate to ensure we get that broad perspective.”

Edwards said he envisions a brainstorming of ideas, invitations to stakeholders and an invite to the public for input. It will culminate, he said, into “something constructive and makes some sense,” as the city moves forward.

Passero said he expect the community to generate many of the ideas - things like the consistent calls for an indoor community recreation area.

“We think we can put all of these multifaceted aspects of our city and our government and the needs of our people together and help to get our city back to where it was as quickly as possible and better than it was,” he said.


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