Marion City Council hears update on COVID-19 situation

The regular City Council meeting for May was held like the ones in April. In order to protect the safety of city officials and the public, the meeting was held at the City Hall but the public and the local news media were able to listen to the meeting electronically from the Marion Community Building, where Finance Director Julie Scherer and Police Lt. Rusty Jenkins were present. No more than 10 people could be at the Community Building, according to the COVID-19 restrictions.

On Tuesday, the Marion City Council took action to help the city move beyond the COVID-19 situation.

That came about the same time the state issued guidelines for reopening restaurants on Friday and ahead of Gov. Cooper’s press conference on Wednesday where he was expected to announce the move to Phase Two. (The press conference came after print deadline for The McDowell News. For additional information, go to www.mcdowellnews.com.)

The regular City Council meeting for May was held like the ones in April. In order to protect the safety of city officials and the public, the meeting was held at the City Hall but the public and the local news media were able to listen to the meeting electronically from the Marion Community Building, where Finance Director Julie Scherer and Police Lt. Rusty Jenkins were present. No more than 10 people could be at the Community Building, according to the COVID-19 restrictions.

During the Tuesday meeting, Boyette gave an update on the coronavirus situation in Marion and how it is affecting the city’s operations. After hearing from Boyette, the City Council agreed to make some changes to the COVID-19 response plan.

The changes include such matters as:

» Closure of city facilities to public. Effective Monday, March 30 through at least Friday, May 29, all city facilities will be closed to the public. City personnel will continue to work to provide necessary services, although city employees may be authorized to work from home in certain situations approved by their department head or the city manager. With the approval of a department head or the city manager, representatives of outside agencies may be allowed into city of Marion facilities as needed to conduct business.

» Public conducting city business. The public is encouraged to conduct business using the City Hall’s drive-thru and drop box or by telephone, fax or by e-mail. If needed, city departments can provide curb service to those unable to be served by other means. In certain limited circumstances, a department head or the city manager may allow brief access by the public to city facilities, if no other reasonable options for service provision exist. The facility closure will not apply to public meetings, if held at city of Marion facilities, although limitations will be placed on the number of people who can attend public meetings. More details may be announced as needed.

On or before Friday, May 29, access to public facilities will be evaluated and a determination made of whether to extend the closure for a longer period of time or whether to allow for full or partial public access, according to city of Marion officials.

The city manager said much depended on Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision on Wednesday.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services issued new guidance Tuesday evening for restaurants and bars ahead of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Wednesday afternoon press conference, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

Although it was released Tuesday night, the guidance document is dated May 22, which is when they would be able to reopen. Restaurants and bars have been closed for sit-down service since mid-March.

The guidance lays out both suggested policy for restaurants in regards to wearing masks, the size of a dining party and the use of communal seating, while also listing restrictions about the number of people allowed inside the business.

Restaurants and bars will be limited to 50% capacity indoors through Phase 2 and all patrons must sit 6 feet apart if they are not sharing a table. People sitting at lunch counters or bars must also be 6 feet apart.

Restaurants are also required to conduct daily symptom screening of employees and immediately send symptomatic workers home to isolate.

N.C. DHHS strongly recommends employees and customers wear a cloth or disposable face covering when they may be near (less than 6 feet from) other people in the restaurant.

In addition, city of Marion officials said at Tuesday’s meeting they are looking at ways to make the rules more flexible so Marion’s restaurants and pubs can accommodate more customers once they are able to reopen for dine-in service.

For example, the city could change the rules so that a business like Crabby Abby’s Bar and Grill could have more outdoor seating on the sidewalk. City officials said The Feisty Goldfish has applied for a sidewalk café permit.

After a discussion, the City Council agreed to support this effort to make the situation more flexible for restaurants and pubs in Marion.

“I think it’s important we show our support for these businesses by thinking outside the box,” said Mayor Pro Tem Juanita Doggett.

In another matter, the City Council took action regarding the new playground at the Community Building Park.

Now that the work to repair the sinkholes has been completed, the asphalt has been laid for the new basketball courts in the park. It is almost time to install the new playground equipment in the park.

City officials received a low bid for the new playground equipment from Cunningham Recreation of Charlotte. This company is one of the nation’s leading park, recreation and playground equipment suppliers.

The new playground equipment should be more accessible to people with disabilities. Mayor Steve Little asked Planning Director Heather Cotton if she had shared the information about the new equipment with Samantha Parrow, who has been an advocate for greater access at the park for the disabled.

“I would very much value Samantha’s comments,” said Little. “I think she will like it a lot. I think it is just as exciting as anything I have ever seen. It will enable Marion to become a destination as a playground for disabled people.”

The low bid of $163,953 from Cunningham Recreation will come in under the city’s budget. It will contain up-to-date playground equipment and a new surface.

In other business, the Marion City Council:

» Heard the quarterly report from the Marion Business Association. President Boyd Phillips said Marion’s business community was doing real well at the beginning of the year but during the second week of March “we hit a stone wall.” “At this point, we’re like the rest of the nation,” he said. “We’re at the mercy of executive orders.” However, the MBA’s leadership is optimistic about the future.

» Approved the demolition of a rundown house at 101 Mitchell St. The property owner has not paid taxes in three years and squatters have taken up residence there. The demolition of this house will be completed by June 15.

» Reappointed Niki Palmer and Pat Cook to the Tree Board subject to their willingness to serve.

» Scheduled the June meetings for Tuesday, June 2 and Tuesday, June 30. Boyette said this will give him and other staff members more time to finalize the budget during a very uncertain time.

Lee O. Sanderlin contributed

to this story.

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