Sundquist Experiences Unprecedented First Year As Mayor
During Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist’s swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 1, 2020, the first time mayor said, “Now more than ever, we need to get creative to grow and expand our city.”
Sundquist, at the time, didn’t know how creative he was going to need to be during his first year in office. However, because of COVID-19, Sundquist had to get creative on a daily basis, adapting to the changes brought on by the global pandemic.
“There were a lot of things we were looking to do, I was looking to do as I learned the role (of being mayor), but I ended up fighting an international pandemic,” Sundquist said. “I was coordinating with departments to get information to the public and some information would change daily or even hourly. It has been an extraordinary year.”
Despite the pandemic, Sundquist said being mayor is everything he expected it to be. He’s had a chance to meet many new residents of the city and discuss the issues and challenges facing Jamestown. He said finding ways to help community residents has been rewarding. He added while dealing with the pandemic, his staff and himself have gotten closer as they learn how to handle the changes that happen because of COVID-19.
“You learn how to become mayor quickly during these situations,” he said.
Sundquist said the first thoughts he had when the pandemic hit the area was of great concern for the community, businesses and the work city government does on a regular basis. He said one of the first things he did was declare a state of emergency in the city. He added city officials also started working with the Jamestown Public Schools District to ensure students who needed it will still receive a free meal; started communicating regularly with his counterpart in the north county, Mayor Willie Rosas; and started working with county and state officials on the mandates and guidelines established to keep people safe during the pandemic.
“We worked with the county to make sure we were responding adequately. We worked with the state all along to make sure we were getting information to the public,” he said.
“We coordinated with the city of Dunkirk. The mayor (Rosas) and I would talk sometimes on a weekly basis about the things going on. I’m proud of the work my staff and I have done together.”
Sundquist said, at first, the city was very lucky not to experience a large number of COVID-19 cases. However, as the pandemic continues, that is no longer the case.
“As predicted, it eventually hit Jamestown,” he said. “We are now at a point where we are seeing a large number of cases in the community, and even with our own employees in the city.”
Obviously some of Sundquist’s goals and plans were sidetracked because of the pandemic. He said those initiatives included creating a city charter review commission and reconfiguring city departments to make sure they’re serving the needs of residents.
However, in the face of the pandemic, Sundquist said he was still able to accomplish some goals in 2020. One of those was to “tackle the ambulance crisis” here in the city. He said this year city official reached a new contract agreement with ALSTAR EMS for ambulance services. He added city officials also reached a deal with the county to start billing insurance companies for “fly-car” emergency response services.
Another first for Sundquist was the city budget process. He said preparing the executive budget was a demanding task because of the unknowns when it comes to state aid and revenues. He added that the process became even more taxing because of the challenge by the unions and the Jamestown City Council on his proposal to potentially save the city more than $1 million in health care costs.
“This year was probably one of the most challenging budget processes that we’ve seen in the city,” he said. “Not only did we have a new finance staff, but we were staring down a 20% reduction in all state aid.”
Sundquist said after his proposal on changing health insurance coverage for retired employees that were 65 or older was nixed by the council, he learned that more people need to be involved in the process before trying to pass a complex initiative.
“It made me as mayor realize that we need to have more voices involved in (the budget) process. We need to work in cooperation, not just with the council, but with the unions and their retirees. We need to come together,” he said. “We’ve already had some great talks with the unions, who have asked me to bring back a health care committee that has been gone for a decade or more. It will bring union members, retirees and folks from the city together to recommend changes in the health care process.”
As for next year, Sundquist said he hopes to continue working on reaching agreements with employee collective bargaining units. The contracts between the city and the the Kendall Club Police Benevolent Association and the Jamestown Professional Firefighters Association IAFF Local 137 expired at the end of 2015 and the agreements with the Jamestown City Administrative Association, Civil Service Employees Association local 1000 and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are all set to expire at the end of 2021.
“Looking into 2021, we must work on collective bargaining agreements. We will work with the unions to renegotiate the agreements,” he said. “We will also want to continue reinventing City Hall to make it more accessible to residents. This year we added new language services, placed public meetings online and started closed captioning for some of those meetings.”
Sundquist said other projects for next year will include allowing residents to apply and pay online for all permits required in the city. Also, city officials will work on updating zones codes created in the 1960s.
“We want to improve the lives of folks here in the city,” he said. “We want to modernize our city government.”