Council will continue live meetings

City snowplowing in Burnsville shouldn’t be threatened this season by the potential loss of drivers to COVID-19 infections and quarantines, Public Works Director Ryan Peterson said.

If crews are squeezed, neighboring cities can probably help out and vice versa, Peterson told the City Council Nov. 17.

In a related matter, council members agreed to continue holding live council meetings as the state’s case numbers rise.

But keeping city workers healthy is the top goal, Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said. Between Maple Grove and Osseo, a recent outbreak forced one of the cities to take over the other’s public works services because of sidelined workers, she said.

“I don’t want that to happen here,” Kautz said. “We have too many streets. We’re a city that’s on a hill. People expect the streets to be plowed and snow removed.”

The surging pandemic has caused concern at City Hall.

“I know our team has been working on, I’ve called it plan B, C and D as we think about snowplowing and contingency,” City Manager Melanie Lee said. “That continuity of operations is important for all of our operations.”

Some city staffers have been infected, she said, without specifying numbers or departments. “We’ve also had staff that have been on quarantine as a result of potential exposure.”

A full plowing takes 30 of the city’s 47 union plow operators, Peterson said, adding that some nonunion employees are available for backup.

Burnsville has no formal arrangements with neighboring cities for snowplowing help, but it would be available, Peterson said.

“If times really got tough we would be able to assist, and vice versa, they would likely be able to come here if necessary,” he said. “Might have to wait a day. And it might be the second round, or maybe they’d be willing to go up and down our main roads. But eventually we would get to it.”

Sidewalk plowing is important, Council Member Dan Kealey said, noting that for walkers and people in wheelchairs, “their ability to get out is whether that sidewalk is cleared or not.”

Meetings

Days before Gov. Tim Walz ordered a one-month closing of bars, restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues (including Burnsville’s city-owned Ames Center), the council revisited the question of holding live public meetings or reverting to the virtual meetings held earlier in the pandemic.

Council members agreed to continue live meetings. But individual members and other participants — staff, citizens and applicants with business before the council — are welcome to join remotely.

City advisory commissions can choose for themselves whether to go hybrid or virtual, council members said.

“My thought is we need to be as accessible as possible, yet still be respectful of everyone being able to make an individual choice regarding their health,” Council Member Cara Schulz said.

Calling for a return to virtual meetings “until further notice,” Council Member Dan Gustafson said members are accessible through email, phone and text.

“If Council Member Gustafson wants to be on the screen instead of sitting next to me giving me candy, I’m OK with that,” Council Member Dan Kealey said.

So it will be.

“With what’s been going on and what I’ve been watching happening with the Department of Health and that, I will be zooming until things get better,” Gustafson said. “This will be the last time I hand out candy for a while here.”

If an issue before the council is expected to draw a large crowd, “we should be ready to shift to mitigate some crowding out in the lobby,” Council Member Vince Workman said.

Seats in the council chambers were distanced from when live meetings resumed.

“We fully utilize the entire space in here to separate ourselves from staff and everything, so I think we do a good job,” Kealey said.

Schulz offered conciliatory words to young adults, who she said are being “shamed” and called “selfish” for social behaviors during the pandemic.

“This age group, this 18- to 25-year-old age group, usually 3.4 percent of them have suicidal ideation,” Schulz said. “Right now, in the last 30 days, 37 percent of them have thought about killing themselves. Forty-one (percent) of them are now working from home, and they’re the only person in their apartment, and they’ve been doing that week after week, month after month. 28 percent of them have had pay cuts, and 26 (percent) have been laid off.

“So I just want them to know that from our city’s point of view, we know that you are struggling and that you are responsible, good and valued residents.”

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