The Berea City Council heard the first reading of an ordinance that will enable city officials to resume in-person public meetings in the council chambers. Due to continuing concerns about the COVID-19 virus, however, meetings in council chambers will not yet be open to the general public.
The proposed change in protocols will apply to all city boards and commissions, such as the Berea Planning Commission, Board of Adjustments, Berea Tourism and Convention Commission, as well as the council’s respective administrative committees.
Berea City Administrator David Gregory said he and staffers from the Public Works Department are figuring out ways to employ social distancing in the chambers to accommodate officials. Plexiglas dividers will be added to separate council members, and hand sanitizer will be supplied for the officials. Others, such as the city clerk, city attorney and the city administrator, would be seated down in the front row of the chambers, Gregory said. In-person public meetings are expected to resume in early May.
The general public will continue to have access to all public meetings through on-line streaming, including the opportunity to contribute of the pandemic protocols can be rolled back.
While he welcomes the opportunity for in-person meetings, Councilmember John Payne said he is glad to see the city is implementing the new policy in a way that recognizes that COVID-19 is still a public health threat. Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley said the administration is working with the Madison County Health Department to ensure the new procedures are safe. Fraley joined Madison County Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor and Richmond Mayor Robert Blythe last week in memorializing the 107 Madison County residents who have died as a result of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Councilmember Steve Caudill said the council managed to get a lot done despite having their meetings on Zoom, but he feels officials will do even better once in-person meetings are resumed. “I’m really looking forward to getting our meetings back in person,” Caudill said.
In other action, the council heard the first reading of a revision to the city’s animal control and sanitation ordinance. Under the terms of the new ordinance, pet owners will be explicitly required to pick up waste left by their pets. Additionally, the ordinance will reiterate the requirement of dog owners to keep their animals under control, whether on a leash or by electronic means. The amended language comes just as the city is preparing to open the dog park.
Also Tuesday, the council heard the first reading of three separate ordinances granting 10-year franchise lease agreements for telecommunication and cable services in the city. Windstream, Charter Communications (Spectrum) and MetroNet are all to receive rights to operate within Berea city limits under the terms of the ordinance. The second reading of the ordinance will take place Thursday, April 8, during a special called meeting.
Additionally, the council unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing Mayor Bruce Fraley to apply for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) grant for up to $200,000 to assist residents who were unable to pay their utility bills because of the pandemic’s impact on the economy.
During mayoral comments, Fraley noted Berea Municipal Utilities (BMU) was recognized for excellence reliability by the American Public Power Association and American Municipal Power.
“We were informed that Berea Municipal Utilities is in the top quartile of the top 25% utilities for system average interruption duration index based data from 2015 through 2019, earning a 2020 certificate for excellence and reliability,” Fraley said. “Congratulations to Kevin [Howard], and kudos to you and Adrian and the rest of the electrical team. We appreciate what you do and it’s nice to see good work being noticed and recognized.” Council members Caudill, Cora Jane Wilson, Jim Davis and Teresa Scenters offered their congratulations to BMU as well.
On the issue of tree trimming, Councilmember Jerry Little said he appreciated the job city has done to keep trees trimmed, minimizing power disruptions during the ice storm last winter. However, Little expressed concern about the way some trees are being trimmed, saying they are unsightly, especially when the middle of a tree is cut out so it won’t touch power lines. Mayor Fraley suggested the council have a special called work session in the near future to address the issue.
The Berea City Council is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, April 8, to hear the second reading of the telecommunication franchise agreements, the coronavirus protocol proposal, and the amended rules for the animal control and sanitation ordinance.