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Council approves emergency declaration in response to pandemic

The Lake City city council approved an open-ended emergency declaration Monday as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The council action extends a prior declaration previously signed by Mayor Mark Nichols.

It “affirms that we understand the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic,” City Administrator Rob Keehn told the council, and “provides us the opportunity to move more fluidly and more flexibly as we try to address the issues that pop up.”

He said the city will also be tracking its costs in case there is an opportunity for reimbursement from the state like there was following last year’s storm damage.

Earlier in the meeting Keehn updated the council and answered their questions on the city’s response to the pandemic so far.

The city is working to maintain “essential services” like water, sewer, police, ambulance, electricity, and fire, he said.

Many city services continue to be provided, some with changes caused by the decision to close city buildings to the public. Efforts are underway to bring more opportunities to make payments online.

Keehn said the reduction of public access has allowed the city to better control the safety of its workforce.

The city is trying to implement best practices for hygiene and separation in key positions, as well as telling employees who aren’t feeling well to stay home.

Meetings where the city isn’t conducting legal business are getting postponed or canceled. For meetings that are legally required, the city is using an emergency provision in the open meeting law that allows meetings to take place over the phone or by other electronic means.

Keehn said the city is also thinking about how it communicates with the public about the pandemic.

“People are being deluged with information,” he said, so he wants the city to use its communications “specifically for information that’s unique to our community or specific to our citizens.”

Department heads will put together that information and then provide it to the Lake City Police Department and Emergency Management Department for dissemination.

Councilmember Jason DeVinny asked Keehn how the city was protecting employees who must work closely with one another or with the public as part of their duties.

Keehn said that in the case of two-person utility crews that need to work together for safety reasons, they’ve tried to separate the crews from one another rather than each individual.

The ambulance service “has a strong set of protocols in place” to protect staff. Dispatch helps them understand the nature of transport cases so they can use adequate personal protection equipment.

Police are limiting the kinds of calls they handle face-to-face.

Keehn said that because police serve an essential public safety role, they can’t be taken off the streets, but the city can limit the types of exposure they encounter.

Mayor Mark Nichols asked if Lake City Public Utilities was joining other utilities in suspending shut-offs and providing “default and forgiveness mechanisms.”

Keehn said that’s been under discussion. They’ve stopped doing disconnections and looked at options for payment plans.

“We’re trying to make it as flexible for our customers as possible while still being able to provide them service,” he said.

As discussion came to a close, Nichol’s said: “I’m just so impressed with how serious everyone is taking this.”

He said that even though they won’t be able to quantify the effects of social distancing for months, “all the science says that it works.”

He even suggested politely asking groups of people to disperse.

“Particularly young people,” he said. “They feel invincible.”

 

 

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