City officials’ new roles aid local first responders

  • Eddie Cutwright and Winston Fletcher of Palatka’s Recreation and Cultural Arts Department.
    Eddie Cutwright and Winston Fletcher of Palatka’s Recreation and Cultural Arts Department.
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Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, some city officials have taken on new tasks to ensure the virus doesn’t spread in Palatka.

Palatka’s Recreation and Cultural Arts Department, which was focused on hosting events for the public and bringing tourism to Palatka, is now serving as the city’s logistic team in the fight against coronavirus.

“The Recreation and Cultural Arts Department ceased all our programs (in March) because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Eddie Cutwright, the department’s director. “Instead of having everybody work from home, we created a team and made ourselves the logistics crisis management team.”

According to Cutwright, the department’s shift in focus began after a meeting with Mayor Terrill Hill and former City Manager Bill Shanahan. Cutwright said he gained crisis management experience during his 22 years in the Army and was prepared for the transition.

“I volunteered our department for this because we wanted to help out the city of Palatka as much as possible and engage in the frontline stuff while doing our part,” Cutwright said. “We went from dealing with the youth programs and community development programs to finding cleaning supplies and masks. It’s been a little bit of a change, but I don’t mind it.

Winston Fletcher, Palatka’s cultural arts coordinator, has been responsible for getting personal protection equipment to the city’s first responders. 

Fletcher said he gets the equipment by buying it at stores, ordering it online and receiving donations. He said he is in constant contact with local businesses so he can get the gear to firefighters and police officers as quickly as possible.

“We want to make sure they’re safe,” Fletcher said. “Their health is our No. 1 priority because they can’t do their jobs if they’re sick.”

Fletcher’s efforts have been praised by fellow city officials.

Palatka Fire Chief J.R. Grimes complimented him during the April 15 emergency city commission meeting, stating Fletcher has been helpful in ensuring the city’s firefighters are safe.

“He is just going above and beyond anything we could’ve ever asked him to do in this position,” Grimes said.

In addition to working as the city’s logistics team, Fletcher and Cutwright are still handling their responsibilities in the Recreation and Cultural Arts Department.

Fletcher said they have been posting exercises on their social media pages while updating event directors about any cancellations or postponements. He said the department might do virtual tours of local historic sites they plan to make tourist destinations.

“When our areas are opened to the public, we’re hoping that they’ll be willing to see them in person,” Fletcher said.

For more information, contact wfletcher@palatka-fl.gov or ecutwright@palatka-fl.gov.