ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
After recent developments with the coronavirus, local entities have been meeting to discuss their responses to the situation.
The Liberal City Commission met Monday morning for a special meeting to discuss a response on the city’s part.
“To start off, we do have 14 employees who traveled out of state and they did stay home today per what was discussed with the county Sunday night at its meeting,” Liberal City Clerk Alicia Hidalgo said. “We talked to the Seward County Health Department, and they said everyone except one can return to work tomorrow, and they suggested that one employee stay home for 14 days, so they were notified and will stay home for 14 days in quarantine per regulations. For the other employees, if they start to show or feel any symptoms, they are to report to the health department right away, and then they will go home and self-quarantine for 14 days, and that goes for their families as well. The symptoms include dry cough, fever and a few others, so that’s what people need to monitor. We also have gotten some questions about a basketball tournament that was scheduled to take place this next weekend, so do we want to go ahead and cancel that? Because that will be more than 50 people.”
“I think so. If they’re cancelling everything else, we might as well go ahead and pull the plug on that,” Commissioner Ron Warren said.
“I would go maybe slightly further and say until rescinded by the commission, all events exceeding a certain amount of people - according to CDC guidelines -are cancelled because I don’t foresee any of that getting changed in the near future,” City Attorney Lynn Koehn said, which the commission ultimately approved.
Further questions regarding this action came before the commissioners.
“So if someone wants to reserve a space and say ‘I’m only going to have 20 people there,’ do we deny that request because of what’s going on?” Public Grounds Director Brad Beer asked.
“Yes, basically all city facility rentals are cancelled until further notice since we can’t have anyone out there to enforce the actual number of people who show up,” Warren said. “Because something that was originally planned to be smaller could turn way bigger, and then that’s a big problem.”
"And for people who have already put down deposits and other fees, will they have the chance to reschedule?” Finance Director Chris Ford asked.
“Yes, without question,” Liberal Mayor Connie Seigrist said.
“But I wouldn’t really reschedule anything right now since everything is so up in the air,” Koehn said. “The best thing we can do is apologize and ultimately keep the health and safety of the community at the forefront of everything else.”
“And Cal [Burke] and I were just discussing this yesterday, we want to wait until the absolute last possible minute to make the call on those things since things could change with everything that’s going on,” Liberal Vice Mayor Taylor Harden added. “But for right now, we’re going with the CDC guidelines and things like that, so we should really plan on just everything being cancelled until things change for the better. And we should know within these next few weeks which way the tide is turning, so to speak, and that’s something we can also add to the discussion at the next city commission meeting.”
The matter of how city employees would be able to do their regular work at City Hall was also discussed by the commission, with one option being telecommuting from home. That discussion also included what action to take with leave time for those who will need to self-quarantine.
“I actually think the telecommuting would work out great because not only would at least one person be able to be at home if they have children, but they also know they’ll still have to work hard because if not, it won’t be very pleasant when everything goes back to normal,” Harden said. “We need to talk to our I.T. people to make sure everything can be set up so we can do that. With things like that, we definitely need to be forward-thinking, and we also need to talk to I.T. as far as making the online bill pay option available for people, this is as good a time as any to make that live.”
The commission also talked about compensation for employees of City Hall and how that could be handled.
“We need to be fair with everyone and exercise caution with this, but we also need to really put together some very strict guidelines on this so no one can just arbitrarily take advantage of it,” Liberal City Manager Cal Burke said. “It can be tempting especially if you’ve got children who aren’t in school and want a way to keep income coming in. We need to figure out some good, strong guidelines before giving someone pandemic leave pay.”
“And actually a big thing that went into the decision to shut down the recreation center was because we didn’t want it used as basically a daycare where there’d automatically be 100-plus children there,” Harden said. “That was something that was really concerning for us and it’s definitely an issue no matter who or where you are. Another big concern I have is if we don’t come up with a way where people are getting normally compensated, they’re going to come to work whether they’re sick or not because they can’t afford not to come in.”
“I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to coming up with something where we can pay those people without it cutting into their sick days and/or paid time off,” Warren said. “It will cost the city money, most likely, but in reality, this is different than what we’ve had to deal with before, so we have to come up with something.”
“I predict we won’t see quite as big an economic crunch as the bigger metropolitan areas in the short run, so our tax collections will probably be moderately the same as normal,” Harden added. “But on drafting an emergency ordinance for quarantine protocols, let’s pay everyone exactly what we already pay them without deducting from their sick days and/or paid time off and just have people follow quarantine procedures and make sure they’re honest about whether they’re ill or not, because what we need to focus on for the next three weeks or so is those core services like trash collection, household water and wastewater services – those three absolutely cannot shut down, so we have to put this together to where we can have most of City Hall working from home and we can still deliver those core services to people, and we need to make it as easy as possible and ride it out as best as we can, because this will get worse before it gets better. We’re in one of the calmest areas of the country and people are freaking out.”