ECP INTERVIEW: Ferris City Manager Brooks Williams
The popular city manager sat down with The Ellis County Press and offered up his thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic and the actions of Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
ECP: What are your thoughts on how Governor Abbott has handled the pandemic?
WILLIAMS: There is one simple word that comes to mind: disappointment. His inability to make decisions based on what is best for citizens and Texas, is atrocious. He played a political game to satisfy his desire to serve himself. When did leadership become about being self-serving and not about service to others?
ECP: Have you seen the Governor take steps to truly address the COVID-19 pandemic?
WILLIAMS: Throughout this pandemic, Governor Abbott’s announced executive orders have been aimed to theoretically allow us to expand the number of nurses in Texas, for example, and enable pharmacists to offer phone consultations...but he has missed the bus.
Why? He didn’t look and the domino effect of his decisions. For example, his orders also allow for more than one person to be treated in a room, creating more space for patients but also further condensing healthcare workers.
I haven’t seen anything that is anything more than half measures. Expanding the pool of healthcare workers as much as possible is literally the smallest step the governor could have taken to handle jumps in the COVID curve.
Allowing pharmacists to advise people over the phone might be innovative and cutting edge in ‘normal’ times... it is less than the bare minimum given where we are today. Leadership today requires more than unleashing a best practice of years ago, it requires true innovation focused on mitigation and solving root causes.
The Governor additionally had called for surgeons to cancel all operations that are not lifesaving. So now, chronic illnesses will take a backseat thanks to poor planning in the Texas healthcare system, under Governor Abbott.
ECP: What do you believe the Governor should have done diffidently?
WILLIAMS: True leadership gives you the facts of all the good and bad. A strategic plan developed by his “Task Force” would have gone a long way without riding the coattails of a political base aimed at saving his rear-end.
He flip flopped and created distrust between elected officials, law enforcement, local health authorities, and state agency administrators.
Governor Abbott expected local officials to enforce his orders and took away any legal recourse, leaving our law enforcement unable to enforce anything.
This created a divide in almost all jurisdictions, with regard to COVID-19 and the response. There was no effort to get to the root cause(s).
The approach was to ask first, “What does my authority allow me to do?” That’s how a plan was built. Around authority and power. It should have been asked, “How do we mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19 and how to we contribute to solving root cause issues?”
Then, you build a plan around those items and engage those that can assist.
The Governor provided very skewed information about the root causes of many of our issues. He told Texans that we should expect that more people will test positive and that is good and what is to be expected because it’s what will happen as the tests roll out and more people are tested.
Lying with statistics is an old trick of politicians and shows that his political prowess is as innovative-less as his approach to protecting Texans from COVID.
While the number of people testing positive is indeed something to be expected, it also takes no responsibility for the fact that Texas is still entirely unprepared for the virus and could have flattened our own curve by more than what we will see. At this point, not only will COVID-19 continue to spread because of inaction and failed leadership, but people who have other serious conditions will also fail to get the help they need and either suffer, sustain lifelong injuries that may debilitate them, or even die.
ECP: Could anything have been done prior to COVID-19, besides having a crystal ball, to prepare us better?
WILLIAMS: Failures in the face of disaster take place long before you see them in front of you. This didn’t happen overnight. Governor Abbott’s failure to prepare is what has hurt Texans most. The Governor is counting on the federal government to offer more funding to save us all, but oddly enough, Governor Abbott has turned down past funding from the federal government...
When did leadership become a position of dependency? He pushes responsibility to local jurisdictions, but also limits their ability to enact true mitigation measures. For example... schools. He sits happily in the middle of local government and the federal government and deflects to one and accepts from the other, all while playing politics.
His failure to expand healthcare in Texas has left millions of Texans in limbo for years, remember – we are the least insured state in the country! It has also led to an extensive run of hospital closures. Our failure to fund residency programs and provide benefits for nurses and other healthcare workers has contributed to our shortage of healthcare professionals.
Our failure to fund educational and vocational programs makes it even harder for working Texans to switch careers as the crisis continues. And state health agencies in Texas, as well as our education agency, have made a series of poor decisions over the years that completely undermine any confidence a reasonable person who has been paying attention might have in them. The lack of advocacy (outside of campaign style speeches) from the Governor for our educators and students, is appalling.
ECP: Has the Governor presented himself as a competent and confident leader during the pandemic?
WILLIAMS: Response and relief efforts have been an unmitigated disaster. His failure to be visible, outside of press briefings, or take action left an open door for the virus to spread. His failure to have a real plan for public schools statewide allowed for students to congregate and unknowingly carry COVID-19 to older populations and put our educators at risk. It has further widened the gap in our students being on grade level and has hurt our most vulnerable and at-risk student populations. Mental health has been mentioned, but the lack of planning has left students at a higher risk.
To see such a punt on leadership that left COVID-19 open to further infiltrate and invade Texas, is sickening. At every turn, he has been intentionally political, cowardly, and slow to take any real steps towards mitigation. Unfortunately, we will all pay for his mistakes. This belief that it is all shut down or all open as the only two options for COVID mitigation is the same tribal mentality that has left us with a two-party system that is on a path of destruction.
ECP: What would you say to our first responders who have been on the front lines during COVID-19?
WILLIAMS: There are no words that can adequately express how grateful I am, and I know everyone is, to each of them. They risk their lives every day for us and there is never a way we can repay them. I can only imagine how difficult this must be for them – trying to navigate the confusing orders, trying to protect citizens, trying to protect themselves. They are in a tough position and will remain in my prayers.