CENTERVILLE — The Centerville City Council called an emergency meeting March 18 to address the COVID-19 health crisis faced by its citizens and businesses.

During the meeting, council members and their newspaper reporter maintained 6 feet of separation (social distancing). Only seven people were present in council chambers.

As the first of three actions, council unanimously approved the proclamation and declaration of emergency. The resolution gave a history of the onset of the COVID-19 virus in the country and followed the policy guidance of the World Health Organization, President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Governor Tim Walz and Anoka County.

City Administrator/Engineer Mark Staz said that because the state had already declared a state of emergency, there was no legal need for the city’s version — especially since most agencies were following that lead. “It’s symbolic,” he said, “but Centerville is leaving no doubt we’re in emergency mode.”

As a result of the current state of emergency, the city’s director of emergency management (CLPD Chief James Coan), the city administrator and other city staff will suspend normal operations. They will be responsible for expenditures and personnel directions as needed to operate the city and address the needs of the city during the emergency period.

For example, in lieu of in-person meetings of the City Council, Planning Commission and other advisory commissions, the city’s meetings will be conducted by telephone or other electronic means.  Statz said that a way would be found for citizens to view council meetings via cable television or online streaming.

The declaration states that the peacetime state of emergency will extend no longer than necessary or not exceed the period declared by the governor, unless it is otherwise extended by the council or by enactment of Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 12.

A copy of the emergency declaration can be found on the city’s home page at centervillemn.com.

Council also unanimously approved the second of the three actions: it adopted action items for the COVID-19 emergency preparedness plan. The plan builds on the city’s pandemic plan, adopted in 2009.

The third item on council’s agenda was to discuss everything pertaining to the COVID-19 emergency and council’s response.

Starting Monday, March 23, City Hall operations will involve a locked front door. Residents with business at City Hall should call to be let in. A sign with the phone number (651-429-3232) will be posted on the front door and readerboard. An appointment can be made for notary services. The city’s two receptionists will be the only personnel at City Hall. Statz, City Clerk Teresa Bender and Finance Director Bruce DeJong will maintain remote access from their homes.

City Hall will be disinfected daily. Ventilation will be run continuously while the building is occupied, and only employees will be allowed into the City Hall office area. Staff meetings, committee and commission meetings, training and vacations are canceled. Anyone showing signs of illness will not be allowed into the building. Guidelines for the public works building and operations are similar to those of City Hall.

Although the council plans to hold its regular monthly meetings through the virtual video chat platform, it is possible that council might be forbidden by higher government to hold further meetings. “If the system won’t allow us to do as planned, then I guess I stay (as mayor),” Mayor Jeff Paar said. 

Paar’s official resignation is on the council’s agenda for the next meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 25 after press time. The agenda also includes the appointment of a new mayor and agreeing on a process to seat a new council member. 

Paar added, “If we can have a meeting, I’d just as soon have it.”

Statz said he saw no public hearings on the horizon.

As to whether the public would be allowed to gather (under the social distancing rules, of course), council had yet to devise a plan.

“As long as we don’t put Downtown Block 7 on the agenda, I don’t think we’ll have a mad rush of residents to a meeting,” Councilman D. Love noted.

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