Tonganoxie City Council continuing virtual meetings

A billboard along Interstate 35 displays tips to help people prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus Monday, March 16, 2020, in Kansas City, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Enlarge photo

June 4, 2020

The Tonganoxie City Council will continue to conduct virtual meetings for the time being.

City Manager George Brajkovic presented potential precautions for resuming in-person council meetings moving forward, but council members eventually decided to continue with a virtual meeting for the June 15 meeting.

Council Member Loralee Stevens was the most vocal in keeping with the current structure of Zoom meetings. Residents currently can call in to listen to the meetings, though they currently aren’t able to speak during the meetings. Residents can submit written comments by 1 p.m. the day of meetings to be shared during the virtual meetings. Anyone directly involved in a topic, including anyone involved in a public hearing, can voice their comments at that time.

Brajkovic had mentioned Leavenworth County Commission meetings being a hybrid of virtual and in-person proceedings. Some of the commission members are at the courthouse, with others in the five-member commission participating remotely. Select county staff and other officials also are at the meeting in-person.

The meetings are broadcast live and available for viewing on an archived basis on YouTube.

Tonganoxie currently doesn’t have those capabilities for recording meetings. Before Zoom meetings, council meetings were recorded on Facebook Live and the available thereafter on the city’s Facebook page. The Zoom meetings are recorded to use when creating minutes that then are approved at the following council meetings.

Stevens wanted to stay the course.

“We don’t live in the dark ages,” Loralee Stevens said. “People have phones; they can call in.

“This is not an inaccessible time. Most people have been working from home and people who regularly come to meetings, they have access.”

Mayor David Frese said he could see merits both ways, while Council Members Jake Dale and Chris Donnelly didn’t have strong opinions either way.

Council Member Lisa Patterson ultimately concurred with Stevens. She appreciated the information for moving forward whenever in-person meetings might return, but said that by the time city staff, including first responders or others screening attendees, “you’re quickly at a pretty full room,” she said.

Stevens was adamant about holding off making any changes.

“I think we should evaluate day-by-day for safety and as an elected official we shouldn’t role model that behavior for this,” she said. “I do not think that is advisable. I don’t agree with moving forward so quickly and I think we need to represent the best safety practice for our community.”

Frese thanked Brajkovic for presenting information on the topic, and then eventually said he agreed with Stevens’ and Patterson’s position.

“I think I may have been the instigator on that, so thanks for taking the hit for me,” Frese told Brajkovic with a laugh.

Brajkovic said he appreciated the good discussion, noting that it would help staff prepare for the next meeting.

Council member Rocky Himpel was absent from Monday’s virtual meeting.

In other business, the council:

l Approved, 4-0, approved a contract for grant application services between the city of Tonganoxie and Western Consultants for the community development block grant for economic development for possible money for businesses through the CARES Act.

l Agreed with staff recommendation to a “4-4 Rule” with regards to delinquent accounts for city utilities. The rule means that residents get four months without disrupted service despite any delinquency and then four months to pay off any delinquent bills. The city will be waiting until the June billing cycle on June 29 for any disconnections. The policy would allow for delinquent customers due to the COVID-19 hardships to enter into a four-month agreement to repay 25 percent of the delinquent amount plus the current monthly bill by October.

Discussed sprucing up welcome signs south and east of Tonganoxie on U.S. Highway 24-40. Mayor Frese brought up the topic and indicated community members were interested in volunteering to pitch in with the beautification projects.

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