During a press conference last week, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem declined to answer questions from reporters who sought the latest updates regarding that state’s coronavirus response. The governor instead suggested South Dakotans focus on positive things.
It was a poor reaction by a leader at a time when people seek every possible bit of information that can help them maintain their own sanity during a sweeping health crisis.
Meanwhile, government entities in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks have done a commendable job of disseminating information during the first weeks of the pandemic.
Press conferences, video meetings and sincere efforts to ensure information is being adequately relayed are among the highlights.
A few examples: The city of Grand Forks has several times reached out to the Herald to see how it can better react to the needs of the media. Council members have offered aid with information and context coming from the city, and other staff there have worked with the media to quickly and thoroughly relay information to the city’s residents.
One instance last week saw the city satisfy a request from the Herald for an expedited announcement, so the newspaper could publish it in its early print edition and reach the maximum number of residents that the order will affect.
The city of Grand Forks also is conducting regular press conferences – every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The conferences are being broadcast via local radio, too, which is very helpful for Grand Forks residents.
Another daily video conference has been organized by City Councilman Bret Weber – who chairs the city’s Growth Fund – and others to give business owners in the community an opportunity to voice whatever concerns they have during the pandemic. Also on that call are leaders from the Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Corp., and the Downtown Development Association.
This regular meeting has helped the city better respond to the needs of local businesses. A good example is Mayor Mike Brown’s midweek proclamation that restaurants can sell off-site beer and wine (in sealed containers only), including sales via delivery. That new rule was born in the daily video meeting.
In East Grand Forks, Mayor Steve Gander has created a video to help answer questions about the stay-in-place order from Gov. Tim Walz. City Administrator David Murphy answered his phone Thursday and spent time explaining local issues to a Herald reporter; he also has sent notes to the newspaper asking to help clarify announcements for residents.
The state of North Dakota, too, is holding regular press conferences that are broadcast via the internet.
Grand Forks County has been responsive to media questions, as well.
In the region, Herald reporters note that many cities are posting all sorts of information on city websites and social media.
After two weeks, we give local public entities, as a whole, a good review for so many efforts and initiatives to help residents gain access to important information during an unprecedented time in history.