Coronavirus: when mayors make up for state failures

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Hunt joggers and strollers from public benches, maintain order, ensure that minimum services work (transport, water, electricity, garbage collection, etc.), disinfect public spaces, care for the elderly and the homeless , manufacture and distribute protective masks, find places for the sick in hospitals, etc. It is an understatement to say that at the moment mayors are making a major contribution, often even far beyond their perimeter of competence, in front line in the “health war” against the Covid-19.

In Cannes, for example, David Lisnard has been deploying in all directions since February 23. From the start of the crisis, on the alert because of its proximity to Italy, he equipped all the personnel on the front with protective kits – with masks, gels and gloves … And he was one of the first in France to set up a “manufacture” of masks, calling on the rescue of all those who know how to sew so that each Cannes can be equipped with a mask. “We even equipped the hospital, it’s still a shame …” underlines the elected official.

The city is still little affected by the pandemic, but its first magistrate prefers to anticipate. “After the deadly floods in October 2015, we considered all the risks, terrorist attacks in all forms as well as an epidemic, which can be carried by floods, explains the mayor of Cannes. We are practitioners, and we know that decisions must be taken under the machine gun, which engage our responsibility and our judgment a posteriori. No room for improvisation. For example, I have just read all the documents, in French, English and Italian, published on the deconfinement scenarios… ”

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In Neuilly-sur-Seine, Jean-Christophe Fromantin is in the process of setting up a “health guard”, if one can say, with doctors, elected officials, volunteers, to “break the solitudes of these poorest among the poorest ”, namely the elderly in the two nursing homes in the city, already hit by around twenty deaths (out of 190 residents).

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The town hall has also set up a home shopping service for the elderly, raids for the homeless; she plays “wholesalers in masks, gels, charlottes and other equipment”, and has to face an avalanche of calls and emails from anxious citizens, “there are a lot of questions”, underlines the councilor, and transmit to the prefecture every day the macabre count of deaths recorded by the civil status. All this, in addition to the primary tasks – cleaning, police, etc. – and with less than 10% of the municipal staff on site, or 100 officers out of 1,300. Not to mention that a dozen elected officials – out of 45 – were also affected by the Covid-19.

When I hear about deconfinement, economic recovery, but I think I’m dreaming!

Local executives have already paid a heavy price for this pandemic disaster. Especially in Montpellier. “I have a dozen deputies who were affected and hospitalized after having presided over the polling stations or served as assessors during the first round of the municipal elections, protested the mayor and president of the metropolis Philippe Saurel, recalling that he had said publicly on March 12 that it was “unreasonable” to maintain the election, even writing it the next day to the Prime Minister.

Read also Special Montpellier – Philippe Saurel: “The President of the Republic has taken substantive measures”

Three weeks later, some of these elected officials are still in strict confinement and have deceased parents ”. Like most of his colleagues, the Montpellier pilot his territory with a team reduced to the minimum – his chief of staff and his director general of services – by chaining the audio and videoconferences. “Control of population movements” (the city has established a curfew between 9 pm and 5 am), strict compliance with confinement, surveillance of the sick and, especially at this time, nursing homes…

Each day, tasks are added to traditional municipal missions. From his office, at the top of the impressive Montpellier town hall, a monumental blue cube designed by Jean Nouvel in the maze of deserted corridors, Philippe Saurel keeps an eye on everything. Breathtaking view of the metropolis. “I am neither a professor nor a researcher, only a dental surgeon, but, we know little, I also have a degree in virology and general bacteriology, attacks the councilor. Which gives me a fairly realistic view of the problem. And when I hear of deconfinement, of economic recovery, but I think I’m dreaming! We are facing a very serious epidemic, which has not yet reached its peak, and we do not have the means to break out of a confinement which will be longer and more painful than one might think… ”And the Montpellier added: “The State is not, in my opinion, organized enough to implement a major public health policy immediately. The only possible interlocutors are the mayors, as always forced to thank you. I’m not complaining, it’s a very noble task to be able to preside over the destiny of a metropolis in difficult conditions. “

We are the state’s mailbox on many subjects, and many citizens have the wrong recipients.

This crisis shows in a glaring, and often tragic, way the need for a new movement of decentralization, many times promised and always rejected by the national and Jacobin power. “We, local elected representatives, have a lot to manage the erratic positions of the State, deplores Jean-Christophe Fromantin. We must act as shock absorbers for the population, which does not always understand a floating, fluctuating, and even often contradictory national communication. We must explain the measures, make the national instructions applicable, round the angles… We feel a huge need for support from our fellow citizens. “

Always ready to go to the front line – in any case, they have no choice – the mayors are tired, once again, of playing the firefighters of the Republic. “We are the mailbox of the state on many subjects, and many citizens are wrong recipients, loose Jean-Luc Moudenc, the mayor and president of the metropolis of Toulouse, who is also the head of urban France , the association that brings together city officials from the largest cities in France.

Read also Toulouse – Jean-Luc Moudenc, the Capitole balancing act

We constantly remind the state of its sovereign functions. We must protect people who clean up risk areas when they are neither caregivers nor sick, manage unions which threaten to use withdrawal rights, accommodate requests for staff for Covid-19 screening tests… I could multiply the examples endlessly. Very often, we have to assume a role which is not ours. “

And the local elected representative, too, to point the finger at the lack of cohesion and coherence of national policies. “Faced with prefects and regional health agencies (ARS), mayors face silence, and when they get an answer, very often it varies from region to region, continues Jean-Luc Moudenc. This undermines the effectiveness of the state. In the emergency of the disaster, the city officials manage as they can. System D and resourcefulness of setting. Jean-Luc Moudenc thus describes how, one day, he received the phone call from his counterpart in Metz, Dominique Gros. “He called me for help because the hospital in his city was overwhelmed, asking me if the Toulouse University Hospital could accommodate patients,” recalls Moudenc. “But what is the ARS du Grand Est doing?” I said to myself. The mayor had to take the hand, because the CHU could not. The respondent of his colleagues reassured him. But this case should not happen… ”

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“The state holds,” assured the head of state in his speech on March 20. He could have added – perhaps he will do so in his next speech … – that, fortunately, the mayors too. Paris charge them the boat? The mayor of Nancy and president of the Radical Party, Laurent Hénart, under pressure at home since the end of February, is not moved more than that. “It may be my radical Girondin side,” he says, “but if we want to be more effective in times of tension, local initiatives are needed to adapt to the realities on the ground.” I even find it logical that there should be more local involvement. In a time of crisis, everyone must do more. “

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Local government minister Sébastien Lecornu, himself elected local, from “his” city of Vernon, in Normandy, where he is confined, thus finds it perfectly normal for the city councilors to assume certain state missions. “Mayors are agents of the state, and crises allow us to remember this,” points out Sébastien Lecornu. That is why they are judicial police officers, civil status officers; this is also, for example, the reason why they sit on the supervisory boards of hospitals. Since the French Revolution, therefore for two centuries, the mayor has had a royal role. ” Certainly. But how far? And with what rights in return? The management of this health emergency by the city councilors must be included in the file for the future decentralization reform. If it takes place.


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