Farmington council declares emergency, talks about Zoom

Farmington city council members on Monday declared a state of emergency, but a “shelter in place” order from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made several parts of the document unnecessary.

Farmington City Council social distancing
Farmington city council members practiced social distancing on Monday during their special meeting at City Hall. This will be their last in-person meeting until at least mid-April.

EO 2020-21 suspended all but essential, in-person government activities and prohibits in-person gatherings. Previous orders closed public buildings and suspended the Open Meetings Act to allow elected officials to meet electronically, rather than in person.

During a 6:30 p.m. special meeting at City Hall, officials discussed a portion of the declaration that gives additional, temporary powers to City Manager David Murphy, allowing him to take critical actions that would normally require council approval. Included on the list:

  • Actions necessary to comply with a federal, state, or county order or directive
  • Limiting City meetings and functions to those required by law
  • Extending deadlines for City responses to submissions and applications for City approvals, permits, and inspections
  • Temporarily releasing all non-essential City personnel from reporting to the City offices for work
  • Approve the payment of bills after additional approval of the City Treasurer
  • Authorize temporary employees or contractors, equipment rental, supply and material purchases, and necessary contracts
  • Cancelling, postponing, or establishing emergency rules for any public meeting of a City board, commission, or committee (not including City Council)

Murphy said he is looking at separating departments, with half of employees at home on a rotating basis.

”It’s going to be pretty bare around here, but we’re trying to keep everyone safe,” he said.

Murphy will also put together a list of essential and non-essential employees, a requirement of the executive order. While mindful of the city’s budget, he said he is also concerned about employees. Not everyone can work from home.

“We’re talking about giving people 14 days of vacation,” he said, which won’t tax the budget. “Essential employees will be taking it later… We’re trying to make everyone whole as best we can.”

Council member David DeLind said taking care of city staff is “prudent and a testament to a well-run city and respect for the workforce.”

After Monday’s special meeting, Murphy said the emergency declaration will not change much of what he does as city manager.

“I’m just trying to stay healthy and keep everyone else safe and healthy,” he said.

Electronic meetings 

After some discussion, officials agreed to suspend a goal-setting session scheduled for April 4, and will hold their Monday, April 6, meeting electronically.

City Attorney Beth Saarela said officials have two options with meetings now, to hold them “fully remote” or cancel them altogether.

“We were concerned about hybrid meetings, with two or more of you in separate places at once,” she said. “Now that the public doesn’t have the right to be here, it’s not as much of an issue.”

Saarela said a council member could use City Hall as their remote location. Also, someone has to be in the building to operate the technology.

Murphy said after a trial run last week, staff determined that Zoom will meet the city’s needs. The video conferencing platform is available via computer, tablet, or smart phone.

While the basic cost is low – around $50 for up to 100 participants, with more capacity available – Mayor Pro Tem Joe LaRussa urged Murphy to take advantage of the “add on” features like whiteboard capabilities.

The only issue with Zoom, Murphy said, is the lack of closed captioning. Saarela said the remedy would be providing a transcript to anyone who requests that accommodation.

LaRussa and Taylor argued in favor of holding the goal-setting session on the original date. Officials delayed scheduling until they filled the vacancy created by Bill Galvin’s resignation.

Taylor said the more officials push out the meeting, the closer they get to elections. Also, she said, “Having our goals in place… shows Farmington is still moving forward.”

Council members will start looking at the city budget in April, LaRussa said, and those meetings may not be ideal for testing electronics.

Mayor Sara Bowman felt the goal-setting session is “not the best case” for testing remote technology, given the interaction among officials and facilitator Charlie Fleetham of Project Innovations.

“I would like to move it up to a date when we can be together,” she said, adding she’d like to get past the three-week executive order window.

DeLind saw some benefit in “seeing what happens in the next three weeks” before making decisions about the city’s future. “If we need to have a Zoom meeting, then we’ve already had a couple of council meetings as a test run.”

Officials directed Murphy to ask about Fleetham’s availability between April 15 and May 1. If he’s not available, Bowman said, they’ll keep the April 4 date and meet remotely.

 

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