What are some of Park County’s most influential people saying when asked to share thoughts and recollections about 2020?

To a person, they say it was an immensely challenging year and that they welcome the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and turn the page to 2021.

In reflecting upon 2020, they consistently use words like challenging, difficult, demanding, taxing, stressful, unusual and unprecedented.  The capable and accomplished subjects interviewed for this story also admitted that 2020 tested their capacity to work through perplexing problems, and in some instances, to adapt new ways of thinking or adjust to uncomfortable changes.

Finally, each of those interviewed credited others for at least some portion of their own success in navigating the turbulent and ever-changing events of the previous year.

Tom McGraw, Park County Sheriff

McGraw had occupied his job as Park County Sheriff for little more than a year when COVID-19 emerged with a host of new challenges in its wake.

Initially, it looked as if Park County might be an exception to the rule, as documented COVID cases stayed much lower than those in surrounding counties. But eventually, loss of income, stay-at-home orders and the daily stress of living in the midst of a viral pandemic began to take its toll.

Incidents of domestic disturbances and domestic violence began to spike, as did other crimes within the county. At the same time, thousands of visitors began flooding into the county from distant locations to escape more populous areas where COVID-19 cases were surging at a much faster rate. All of those factors contributed to more crime and greater demands being placed upon McGraw and his staff.

“I would say 2020 was very challenging; a whole new experience,” McGraw said. “Having to stay home, dealing with financial problems and the extent and longevity of the pandemic really got to people. I can understand that. I’m tired of wearing masks and not being able to go out to eat at restaurants and socialize with friends just like everyone else.”

McGraw continued:

“From our end, just trying to keep people safe, and trying to keep our inmates at the County Jail safe, became a huge part of our daily routines. Even though most people don’t worry much about those in jail, we do, and it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to keep them healthy while they are in custody. It has been a challenging situation, to say the least.”

McGraw added that all criminal justice professionals are trained somewhat in how to handle a major health crisis, but that the prolonged nature of the pandemic and the additional problems it has spawned have tested his department and surpassed his initial expectations.

“I think most everyone expected this thing to pass after a month or two,” McGraw said. “And I think all of us are surprised that we are still dealing with it to the extent that we are today.”

McGraw was also complimentary of Sheriff’s Office personnel for their commitment to serving the community and for maintaining the department’s high standard of professionalism despite unusual and unforeseen circumstances brought on as a result of the virus.

Tom Eisenman, County Manager, Park County

As one who oversees virtually every facet of Park County’s day-to-day operations, Eisenman has been dealt more than his fair share of challenges this year.

According to Eisenmen, communications between Park County individuals and entities was severely hampered due to social distancing requirements and state orders forbidding gathering in public places.

“We were not able to hold face-to-face meetings, and were not able to get out into the community, so the lack of enriched conversation and communication was an issue,” Eisenman said. “We complied with every one of the governor’s orders, though, limiting occupancy in all county buildings and following the advice of state health agencies.”

Eisenman explained that there were several factors working in the county’s favor, however. The county started planning for “going virtual” more than a decade ago, and those online capabilities have been vital tools throughout the duration of the pandemic.

“The Cares Act and subsequent financial assistance to the county was also essential to surviving the pandemic, according to Eisenman. The CARES Act money was a huge help. Thank goodness we got that,” Eisenman said.

Finally, Eisenman credited  all those in the Public Health and Human Services sector of the county government, as well as administrators and the commissioners for exemplary service during the most trying stages of the health crisis.

Many employees within the county perform services that are considered to be “essential,” and those employees reported to work and interacted with the public despite the risks it posed to their own personal health.

“Those people are truly my heroes,” Eisenman said. “They were aware of the risks associated with public exposure, and I know it weighed on all of them. But they just kept pushing the rock up the hill.”

Eisenman believes vaccines against COVID-19 provide reason for optimism and predicted that the virus will be managed well enough for a return to normalcy by the final quarter of 2021.

Frank Just, Mayor, Town of Fairplay

During his lengthy tenure as Mayor of the Town of Fairplay, Just has demonstrated a passion for consensus-building, out-of-the box thinking and problem-solving for the betterment of the community. And each of those attributes were on display as he recalled and reflected upon the events of 2020.

“Five new businesses have recently opened in Fairplay because of determined people who have stepped out and taken chances even in this unpredictable financial climate,” Just said. “I did the same thing during difficult times in 2010, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I really admire their fortitude and determination.”

 According to Just, he and others on the board of trustees for the Town of Fairplay, as well as those serving in administrative capacities, discussed a wide range of options and strategies for dealing with COVID-19 during the early stages of the pandemic.

“We wrestled with it [COVID-19 strategy] quite a bit,” Just said. “I like to dwell on positives rather than dwelling on negatives, and we just decided to keep moving forward with the items we had planned. It would have been easy to have just sat back and made excuses, but we decided to punch it in the mouth and move forward.”

The Town of Fairplay did just that throughout the year, erecting a spectacular series of sculptures which  spell out “Fairplay” at the town’s most visible intersection, moving ahead with downtown development and beautification projects, and launching a marketing campaign called Fairplay Forward as a means of promoting local businesses.

David Kintz, Jr., Park County Coroner

As of Dec. 28, Kintz and his small staff had received 89 deceased individuals since Jan 1, 2020.

“That is the most we have ever had in a single year, and more than the previous high of 87 in 2016 when we had seven homicides,” Kintz said. “COVID has played a huge role, not as much because of the virus itself, but because of the fallout from the virus.

More people visiting Park County and an increase in alcohol-related deaths also contributed to an exceptionally busy year for the Park County Coroner’s Office.

“It has been a stressful year for our staff,” Kintz said. “There have been more deaths than usual, and cases have also been more complicated and time consuming than in the past.”

All county offices and county employees seemingly weathered 2020 exceptionallty  well under the circumstances, Let’s hope enjoy an easier, healthier 2021.

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