City to conduct public meetings through electronic means; facilities closed to the public
Like many communities across the state, the Apple Valley City Council adopted a resolution March 17 proclaiming a peace time emergency situation in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The document “invokes the city’s emergency operations plan and continuity of operations plan necessary for the response to the COVID-19 health pandemic,” the city said.
Prior to the March 17 City Council vote, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department had already closed park facilities to the general public and canceled programming starting March 13. Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland said the Municipal Center and Central Maintenance Facility are also closed to the public.
“This is serious. We want to assure that our public health and our public safety is of paramount importance,” Hamann-Roland said at Tuesday’s special emergency meeting. City Administrator Tom Lawell said the city’s objectives are to reduce the transmission of coronavirus among residents and employees; minimize illness among employees; maintain essential city operations and services; and minimize the economic impact of the pandemic on the community.
The resolution approved by the City Council included an interim policy as part of the city’s personnel manual. Lawell said the policy allows some employees to work from home when feasible. Employees may be reassigned to other work as necessary. If no work is available employees will be paid for up to 14 days. Employees who contract COVID-19 can get up to 14 days of leave time.
Lawell said state statute has a provision for times of crisis that allows public meetings to be conducted by electronic means such as phone or video. He asked the council for direction about how to proceed for future city meetings.
There were four more meetings scheduled for March: the Planning Commission on March 18, the Urban Affairs Committee on March 24 and the Economic Development Authority and City Council on March 26.
All of the City Council members were physically present during Tuesday’s meeting, but sitting farther apart than usual.
Council member John Bergman suggested pushing the meetings back until April. Council member Clint Hooppaw said it didn’t make sense to push back all city business another month if meetings can be conducted through electronic means. After further discussion, the City Council voted to cancel the Urban Affairs and EDA meetings.
The council also approved conducting meetings by telephone or other electronic means because of COVID-19 and rescheduling the Planning Commission meeting to give staff time prepare conducting the meeting with this method rather than in person.
Other closures, cancellations
It started with the slow trickle of event cancellations on March 12, the closure of facilities on Friday and Saturday, the state-ordered closure of schools March 18-27 on Sunday and then the governor ordered that bars and restaurants stop sit-down service on Monday.
The Apple Valley Chamber of Commerce was among the organizations that canceled or postponed several events, including its Apple Valley Home & Garden Expo, originally slated for April 4. Chamber President Ed Kearney said in an email newsletter that the strength of families, businesses and the community all rely on the collective health of families and jobs. He said the chamber is working daily with the city, five chamber partners south of the Minnesota River, the county, and Minnesota Chamber to communicate, advocate and take action when necessary.
“Some of our larger employers we know we are in touch with are encouraging working from home even with kids present, adjusting upward their sick leave policies and even delivering work to homes if a worker is not feeling well or someone in their family is ill and very creative shift changes and work practices,” Kearney wrote. “Banks are encouraging businesses to contact them early (or now) with their anticipated needs and to not wait. Several just today are closing their lobbies, so call your institution right away.”
The Minnesota Zoo also closed its doors to the general public starting March 14, though zoo staff have still been reporting to work to care for the animals and maintain internal operations.
“The health and safety of our community, including our guests, staff, volunteers, and animals, is our top priority and we will continue to proactively monitor the situation and work closely with the state of Minnesota in an effort to protect all Minnesotans,” Minnesota Zoo Director John Frawley said.
Patty Dexter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.