Monday’s regular Hastings City Council meeting was canceled as the city of Hastings continues to work through challenges created by the threat of the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19.
Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an executive order on March 17 to permit state and local governmental boards, commissions and other public bodies to meet by videoconference, teleconference or other electronic means through May 31.
“After a lot of this stuff started happening last week, updates were coming every hour,” Mayor Corey Stutte said in an interview Monday morning. “When the governor gave the option to do meetings remotely we started to look at what those possibilities might be. The unfortunate thing is we just weren’t prepared from an IT standpoint to put something together at that point. And we didn’t have anything pressing on this agenda that needed to get done, so we wanted to make sure we were able to incorporate citizens speaking and those sorts of things when we go to virtual meetings.”
Canceling a regular council meeting isn’t unprecedented. The council’s June 25, 2018, meeting was canceled due to an anticipated lack of council member quorum.
City Clerk Kim Jacobitz and Director of Information Technology Kevin Schawang are working on possible video or teleconference options, while still allowing public input.
“I know they are thinking through those things,” Stutte said. “We want to be able to incorporate the public input/citizen communications piece obviously. If we have public hearings, we obviously need to be able to incorporate that, as well. There’s just a lot of technical issues that are rolled up in this. We want to be cognizant of the fact that citizens need to be involved in this, but we also want to make sure we get it right before we roll it out.”
City officials decided Thursday afternoon not to hold the meeting. Stutte said the city now can take time to make sure everything is ready for future meetings.
While the City Building, 220 N. Hastings Ave., is closed to the public, the city is continuing regular operations.
“Obviously, we’re having lots of internal meetings with all department heads and key employees to make sure we’ve got continuity plans in place to keep everything moving,” Stutte said. “Even if we’re not meeting we’re able to operate. There will be some things that will need to be approved probably at our first meeting in April (April 13), obviously. We’ll work through those as time gets closer. For as quickly as this is moving, three weeks is kind of an eternity at this point.”
Stutte himself is largely working from home. He does go into the City Building every day for a videoconference with local stakeholders to discuss changes pertaining to the novel coronavirus disease.
He likes to be at the City Building for the daily conference to be around department heads, so they can do a wrap-up after the conference call and see if anything is needed throughout the rest of the day.
“I think what’s become very apparent is we have a lot of work to do when it comes to remote work from the city’s operational side,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of improvements I think we can make there. When this is all said and done I think we’ll have seen how we can work better remotely, and we’re doing it well now. It’s been a challenge, but it’s been good to see everyone come together to get the job done.”
Stutte’s wife, Laura, is the executive director of the YWCA of Adams County. The YWCA decided on March 16 to shut down its building.
Laura advised her staff to work from home. Each staff member would go into the office one or two hours each day, which is continuing this week.
Stutte said the community has done a good job of stepping up and recognizing that Hastings is still open for business.
“All these small businesses are open, they just might be operating a little differently whether it’s takeout or delivery,” he said. “I’ve been happy to see that. I know there’s a lot of unanswered questions out there when it comes to the timeline on this pandemic and when things might get back to normal. There’s a lot of concern out there making sure these businesses remain viable, so that they are around to start their normal operations when this is over, too. We’re trying to work through and answer some of these questions.”