Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts and Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett spoke at Austin Peay on Sept. 8. RICKY BIRCHFIELD | THE ALL STATE

Austin Peay’s President’s Emerging Leader Program hosted a Poli-Talk panel on Wednesday, Sept. 8. The panel featured Clarksville politicians and university officials who answered questions about the community and promoted civic engagement.

Questions directed at the panel covered the effects of COVID-19 on the city, consequences of Clarksville’s growth, and the need for students to be involved in politics and the university.

When asked whether the coronavirus would have long-term effects on the city’s economy, Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett stated that small businesses, childcare and healthcare have all been hurt by the pandemic, but that Clarksville-Montgomery County has done well overall.

Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts also said that the pandemic has had lasting positive effects; he gave an example of restaurants being built with smaller dining areas, resulting in a smaller footprint on the community.

Durrett also touched on COVID’s effects towards Clarksville’s first responders, highlighting the stress faced by the EMS department.

“It’s almost like war in a sense,” he said. “We have seen in the last probably 10 years that this thing called PTSD is not only with our military, but it also is with our first responders, and unfortunately I think we’re going to start to see more and more of that.”

Wes Golden, the health and safety manager for the City of Clarksville and a former firefighter, said that the fire department was likely to fare well due to preexisting regulations against tuberculosis and other diseases.

“This is what they do,” said Golden, who is currently campaigning for county mayor. “They’ve dealt with other types of viruses before.”

Golden added that the pandemic and increased call volumes have still contributed to increased stress throughout the department.

Montgomery County Government Chief of Staff Kyle Johnson drew attention to collaboration between the county and city governments, saying “What we did and how we responded was why you see Montgomery County’s numbers differ from a lot of surrounding counties around us.”

Johnson said that the ability of Clarksville-Montgomery County’s officials to put aside their political issues and work together has contributed greatly to their COVID response.

Eric Norman, Austin Peay’s vice president of student affairs, elaborated on the university’s ongoing commitment to student health. Norman explained that regular check-ins, meal deliveries and emergency loan programs are available to students recovering from the virus.

Panelists also said that preserving the collaboration between officials during the pandemic would prove essential to Clarksville’s growth. Pitts and Golden each touched on the traffic challenges posed by expansion, and Durrett complimented Pitts and the city council for their infrastructure plan.

In the panel’s closing moments, each speaker explained the importance of getting involved with schools, civic organizations and nonprofits. Between collaboration, recovery, growth and diversity, the panelists were confident that Clarksville will only improve.

“I think the future is nothing but bright for Clarksville-Montgomery County,” Durrett said in a closing statement.