HUGO — City Hall looked a bit different at the City Council's March 16 meeting.
Based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) amid the coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic, the council decided to conduct business as usual, but sit a bit farther away from each other to allow for recommended social distancing.
The chairs in the audience were spread out, and a couple of council members attended the meeting remotely. City staff members sat in chairs in the audience to generate more space on the dais.
“We put a lot of thought into whether we should do this and we need to move forward with city business so we have gathered together here. We will discuss the business that needs to happen, and we will try to do it in a safe and thoughtful manner,” Mayor Tom Weidt said.
City Administrator Bryan Bear explained that as yet, the city had not been asked to take official action regarding COVID 19. However, in addition to the social distancing seating arrangement, many changes are being implemented both at City Hall and to city services.
“We thought it would be a good idea since things are escalating so quickly with the coronavirus to provide some information for you and anyone who is interested about how it is affecting us here, in the city of Hugo,” Bear said. “Things we talk about tonight will change tomorrow.”
Bear added, “We have modified the room arrangement for the meeting tonight. We have never done this before, the practice of social distancing. The idea of meeting in public is going to be less and less popular moving forward, and we are not sure if we are going to meet the next time in this form for the council.”
The city continues to try to follow the guidance from its partners, which include the CDC, MDH and Washington County Public Health. The city is also guided by its emergency management plan, which addresses pandemics.
On March 18, Weidt declared a local state of emergency, which invokes the city's emergency operations plan and the pandemic response plan. That declaration was extended during a virtual council meeting held March 20. The city will continue to provide essential services, but nonessential services may be reduced or eliminated as the pandemic escalates. Essential services include: the public water supply, sanitary sewer service, road maintenance, emergency services and fire protection. Nonessential services, such as water main installations and the issuance of peddler's licenses, have been suspended temporarily.
“We prefer to not go into people's houses unless it is necessary, and (then) with protective gear,” Bear said.
City Hall is also taking measures to allow more employees to work remotely. Some employees are working “on call” while other employees have certain shifts to try to limit the number of people in the city's buildings at one time.
Although City Hall remains open to the public, residents are encouraged to contact city staff online or by phone. The Fire Hall is closed to the public and the fire department has suspended drills temporarily. The department is, however, still responding to calls. In addition, community spaces such as the Oneka Room at City Hall and the community room at the public works department have been closed to the public.
All recreation programs, including Movie Night, Story Times and Kidz 'n Biz have been canceled for the foreseeable future and the city's cleanup day may also be canceled. The city's upcoming Spring Cleanup has also been canceled. Check the city of Hugo's website ci.hugo.mn.us/ for updates.
The city also has the discretion to temporarily refrain from approving special event permits because of public health concerns.
Nearly all of the city commission meetings have been canceled. However, it is a bit more complicated when it comes to the Planning Commission and City Council, which must meet regularly for the city to continue to function.
The next City Council meeting is not until April 6, so the council has some time to figure out what will happen. “Three weeks from now, I can only imagine how different the world will be,” Bear said.
Council members gave city staff the okay to investigate the possibility of hosting a virtual council meeting. There would likely be some presence at City Hall, but most council members and the public could tune in online. One of the challenges is how members of the public would be able to provide comments during open mike or a public hearing.
Lead Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.