The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved a resolution Tuesday, March 17 restricting non-essential meetings and authorizing the town manager to declare a local state of emergency to help combat the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The resolution authorized the town manager to suspend, cancel or reschedule nonessential public meetings; limit public access to town facilities and services; provide for employment matters including but not limited to scheduling and alternative staffing models to serve the town’s needs; canceling outside events and activities; and other items required for the efficient and safe operations of town business.
Councilwoman Laura Danowski asked Town Manager Jamie Titcomb what was on his list of cancellations and how he would go about rescheduling them when it was possible.
Titcomb said he would follow mandates that come down from national, state and county authorities, which are changing daily.
“However, the projected impact in the near future would be to cancel advisory committee meetings, to cancel any public events that we’re partnering with or working with any other agency or entity in the town, including public gatherings on campus or off campus,” he said. “It would be in my current mindset that at the next regularly scheduled meeting, which would be the council meeting on April 7, to revisit town operations and town meetings… in view of where the state, national and county directives are at that time.”
Titcomb said he participated in several conference calls with city managers and emergency management agencies over the past several days.
“We’re obviously monitoring both the governor’s emergency declarations as well as the president’s, and they are changing as conditions in the region change, so we just want to be queued up and ready to react to the safety and well-being of the citizens and the staff of the town,” he said.
Mayor Robert Shorr asked how a declared state of emergency would end.
“Do we look at it in April and say, ‘OK, this is still applicable,’ and extend it for another month at that point?” he asked.
Titcomb said it would be his intention to bring back an updated review of the status of the emergency at the April 7 meeting.
“If conditions in general have improved, and we feel there is less or no longer a threat, we could act accordingly,” he said. “If, conversely, other entities of governmental directives have come down making it more severe, we would introduce those issues to you as well.”
The main thing to address, he said, was the congregating of people, which is highly ill-advised, and daily operations of the town as far as people coming in and out of the office.
“We would likely consider business by appointment, business by either teleconference or phone, or prearranged considerations, so as to not expose anybody,” he said. “As you probably know, the school district is locked down for two weeks plus. There are state and federal policies in place to address employment and leave and all those kinds of things that are going to be backfilled by those levels of government, but we’re going to need some flexibility on the front end.”
Shorr asked logistically if the council would need to pass a resolution that would cancel the emergency resolution. Town Attorney Brian Shutt said that would be his thought.
“At the point in time when this is no longer needed, then we would come forward with a resolution essentially rescinding this resolution, and everything would go back to status quo,” Shutt said.
Titcomb assured council members that he would keep them apprised of conditions and return the town to normal operating procedures as soon as possible.
“This is basically just giving me the authority to logistically… do what’s necessary to comply with the county, state and national emergency declarations,” Titcomb said.
Danowski asked Titcomb if he would post a letter on the town web site explaining the procedures being put in place, and he said he would do that, adding that there are already COVID-19 posts and related links on the web site.
“There will be an impact to the public,” he said. “The most obvious may be services by appointment or services through web meetings or teleconference meetings where we don’t want large groups of people together at once.”
He added that he had no intention of shutting down the town’s offices, but they are focusing on isolating people.
“Fortunately, in this building, we have separate offices,” he said. “We have some flexible scheduling where we can have people come and go and do things that will allow us to get the town work done, including telecommuting and things like that, because many of our systems are cloud based or remotely accessible.”
This means that employees might be able to work from home if it becomes necessary.
Shorr asked about provisions for cleaning town hall. “You are in a position where the front desk is isolated, so they can stay back if somebody comes in,” he said.
Titcomb said town staff came in on Friday to clean extensively and organize to minimize document and materials sharing.
Shorr said his concern was with custodial staff that comes in and cleans.
“We have a company that we pay to come in and clean, right?” he asked.
Titcomb said they come in once a week, and Town Clerk Lakisha Burch said staff wipes down counters and restrooms with disinfectant on a regular basis.
“We asked the cleaning crews to come twice before this happened because of other cleaning issues and we haven’t gotten a response, so we may be looking to get a new cleaning service,” Burch said.
Titcomb said there was no hysteria involved in the proposed resolution, but it was a way to deal with the COVID-19 issue effectively.
“Under our charter, it takes three days just to call a special meeting, so if there was some sort of directive or emergency that occurred in a time frame more quickly than that, we want to be able to react to that,” he said, adding that if conditions deteriorate, it may be necessary to hold the April 7 meeting without an audience and stream it online.
“We might have you show up and spread you out a little bit to take the actions necessary, but it may be televised with no live audience,” he said. “We’re trying to keep the practical options open, because much of what we’re dealing with is being mandated from emergency management, the health department, and the state and federal mandates that are coming forward.”
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia made a motion to approve the resolution, which carried 5-0.