Updated: Mar 27
"We have basically closed City Hall," said the Mayor of the City of Cheviot, Samuel Keller, during Tuesday's city council meeting. The City of Cheviot has taken cautionary measures in line with other federal, state, and local government bodies around the globe, to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Beginning March 18, 2020, no person will be allowed inside the glass doors on the first or second floor of City Hall until further notice. The only exception to the rule as of now is the upcoming City Council meeting. The meeting is slated for April 7, 2020, and at this time remains open to the public.
In less than a week schools have shut down, restaurants have limited service, only able to provide carryout or delivery, gyms, and movie theatres have closed, with other businesses reducing their hours of operation as well until the storm passes. The coronavirus is seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and City Hall is not exempt.
How council meetings are conducted has changed as well. Members of council were seated in chairs that are normally reserved for the public during the course of last night's meeting. Each member was seated 6 feet away from the other in compliance with recommendations issued by the State of Ohio.
Court Is No Longer In Session
"County Court has postponed and will no longer be using our building until further notice," said Mayor Keller. This is only a temporary suspension; the County Court will return once the city and the nation reaches a level of normalcy.
Mayor's court will be suspended until May 4, 2020. The city is only accepting checks, money orders, and credit cards for payments of fees and fines. If cash is your form of payment, the funds must be placed in an envelope for the exact amount and placed inside the lockbox. The city will then mail you a receipt. This measure is temporary in order to minimize contamination inside of City Hall. The city will continue to do weddings; they will be held in the front foyer, or outside, but are restricted to the bride and groom only at this time. List of closures here
"This is a very fluid and everchanging situation," said Mayor Keller, continuing with "Chief Klein and Chief Stone are both well aware of what is going on and working with their employees the best they can."
So how exactly are the local law enforcement and fire department handling the rapid changes? "It's really all hands on deck," explained Fire Chief Robert Klein, continuing with "We can't afford to lose any employees at this point." The Chief elaborated further stating, "If we do indeed get hit with this, it's probably going to be canceling vacations, and the city would have to declare an emergency for that to happen."
The city safety committee has been meeting every Wednesday, making additional preparations for the city to run operations efficiently and safely during this time of unprecedented circumstances. From an outside perspective, the Mayor's office, police department, and fire department all seem to be working in unison together. Staffing between the departments doesn't necessarily seem to be affected any more than it already was. The fire department has been running a skeleton crew for some time now. In a small city like Cheviot, a crisis such as the one we're potentially facing has every major department straddling the "fully-staffed" and understaffed line at all times. Some city firefighters have dealt with some mild sickness as of late but no serious health concerns are ongoing throughout the department. Losing one first responder for any amount of time right now would put an even bigger workload on the rest of the department. With that being the reality of small-town municipalities, you get the impression no precaution is too small to ensure the health of its employees and citizens.
"It's clearly impacting our police department, they are going on runs with the fire department but they're staying outside unless the fire department requests assistance for them to come in," explained Mayor Keller. The police department has also been issued N95 masks for further protection. First responders are also placing masks on all patients who are picked up in an ambulance as a further cautionary procedure.
Safety Service Director Report
Safety Service Director recommends postponing the city's sidewalk program until further notice. "In light of a lot of people losing their jobs, and not having any money, I'm going to suggest that we put it off until further notice and see how things come out. I really don't want to put another burden on them [residents of Cheviot] right now," said Safety Service Director Tom Braun. For now, the city administration will mark any sidewalk safety issues that may arise during this time.
Law Director Report
The Ohio Attorney General's office sent a letter to Law Director Rohr outlining suggestions on complying with the public health orders. These orders include prohibiting gatherings of 50 or more people while municipalities also attempt to comply with the Open Meetings Act. The Cheviot Gazette believes that letter sent from the Ohio Attorney General's office can be found here. This is, however, unconfirmed at this time.
Open Meetings Act Overview: This mandates that a "public body" conducts its official business in meetings open to the public, including discussion on how to determine who is a "public body" subject to the Act, and what obligations the Act imposes on said public body. Source: ww.ohioattorneygeneral.gov
"There is some concern from a legal standpoint because the letter that was issued by the Attorney General was not a formal opinion, but rather an informal letter," said Law Director Kimberlee Rohr, continuing with, "I participated in a conference call with other Law Directors and the Attorney General yesterday. A request was made to the AG to go to the Governer and suspend certain requirements of the Open Meetings Act," said Rohr.
So what parts of the Open Meetings Act may be suspended? The letter specifically mentions allowing voting members to communicate via telecommunications, such as Facetime or by Skype. Currently, when elected officials are discussing public business, they must do so in a public setting. The only exception to this is executive sessions. This request from the AG includes banning the public from attending meetings.
City council meetings in the City of Cheviot are not well attended. So, it is unclear going forward if city officials would consider addressing public attendance during this time as an issue. However, if an order comes from the Governer's office stating this, the city will have no choice but to enforce it.
As of now, what happens if the Open Meetings Act is violated? Any action taken in executive session is void, as is any action taken in open session that results from an unlawful executive session. Please note that executive sessions do not fall under the Open Meetings Act. Minutes are also not taken during the executive session. Making the case for anything being discussed that should not be during the executive session would be nearly impossible unless the complaint itself comes from people inside the room.
Here is an informative video on the Open Meetings Act and as an added bonus an Open Meetings Act fact sheet has also been included in the link. Know your rights.
President of Council Mark Waters asked members of the council to mark the TAP report meeting in their calendars for April 16, 2020, but an assessment of where things will be taken pertaining to the coronavirus will determine if the meeting needs to be postponed or canceled.
Postponed or Canceled Events
The Cheviot Community Foundation meetings are postponed until further notice.
The Young Citizens Banquet is canceled.
The Easter Egg Hunt held at Harvest Home Park is canceled.
WeThrive! Meeting has been canceled.
The Family Day Picnic committee has postponed any future meetings pertaining to the event. The Family Day Picnic is scheduled to be held later this year in June. As of now, the event is not postponed or canceled, only the meetings to plan the event. "We'll go forward as we know more about the state of the community," said council member Amy Richter.
President Waters stated he plans on the council being in session on April 7, 2020, for the next meeting, unless the situation becomes much worse.
Councilmember Amy Richter presented a request to create a line item for the Cheviot Historical Society for the organization to be eligible for grants. Richter requested an amount of $500. Mayor
Resolution. 20-04- Purchase protective gloves with money from the criminal activity fund to the Forfeiture Fund. The amount shall not exceed $2,000. This resolution shall take effect immediately. 3.17.2020
Ordinance 20-09 - Transfer certain funds and declare an emergency in order to meet certain expenses that are necessary to adjust the budget appropriations through a transfer. The amount of $66,142.34 shall be transferred from the General Fund to the Auto Equipment Fund for garbage truck payment.
Ordinance passed in a 6-0 vote.
Resolution 20-05- To accept the recommendation of the tax incentive review council regarding the community reinvestment area agreement for the Family Dollar Store. This resolution was passed on 3/17/2020 with (5) yes votes and (1) no vote. Councilmember David Voss opposed the resolution "I just think a place that can't comply with the law doesn't deserve anything from Cheviot," said Councilmember Voss.
President of Council Mark Waters questioned the administration on why council was receiving this resolution on such late notice. The administration explained that Family Dollar response time on presenting accurate information to the city was the cause for the delay.
Ordinance 20-05 -To accept 2.5 acres from Green Township in Annexation. This process began on October 1, 2019 and ended January 7, 2020. Adoption was accepted with 5 votes in favor of annexation. Councilmember Alanna Tucker recused.