Madison City Council meets with a limited audience and seats placed at social spacing intervals to help impede the spread of the COVID-19 virus. (Madison Courier staff photos by Mark Campbell)
Madison City Council meets with a limited audience and seats placed at social spacing intervals to help impede the spread of the COVID-19 virus. (Madison Courier staff photos by Mark Campbell)
Visitors arriving for Tuesday night’s Madison City Council meeting were allowed to enter City Hall through a locked door, and once inside the council chambers, found about 10 seats spaced evenly and far apart for the three visitors and city department heads who found the need to attend.

City Hall had been ordered on lock-down earlier on Tuesday to control access and limit interaction with the public in lieu of local, state and national COVID-19 directives with regard to gathering in groups.

Despite all that, the city’s business got done — the public was able to watch the meeting on local public access TV and social media — and the plan is to maintain similar procedures until the threat from the coronavirus pandemic subsides, which could take weeks or even months.

Mayor Bob Courtney had declared a public health emergency earlier Tuesday — as did Jefferson County government and the town of Hanover — closing all buildings with business conducted by appointment only or by drive-through options and the internet. Madison also suspended all public committee and board meetings with the exception of City Council and Board of Public Works, the two agencies that handle most of the city’s business, and then only on a case-by-case basis.

The action was based on directives handed down in an executive order by Gov. Eric Holcomb Tuesday to reduce the number of gatherings in the state and limit the number of people at those gatherings. In fact, city council will need only one council member present moving forward to qualify as a quorum as long as other council members participate through real-time, electronic means such as group conferencing.

“As with everything, this is all very fluid,” City Attorney Joe Jenner said.

So, in what could be the last city meeting for some time with the full council membership in chambers, the group wasted little time in adopting several proclamations and amendments to city ordinances to facilitate operation during the COVID-19 crisis and keep projects moving. Rules were suspended when needed to hold second and third readings to facilitate votes to adopt and in each case, the votes were unanimous.

Included in the measures that were approved were:

— An ordinance establishing a Public Safety Local Income Tax Fund that Jefferson County officials had adopted on Jan. 1. Funds from the new tax, which the county needed for its jail construction project, can only be used for public safety and the city has not formally designated what it will use the money for at this point.

— An ordinance adopting changes in the city’s PACE grant program to establish targeted neighborhoods for revitalization and set aside grant money to assist property owners with those expenses.

— Amended the city’s salary ordinance in regard to the COVID-19 epidemic to allow city workers to continue to be paid if they are unable to work due to the virus outbreak or work from home, if the situation necessitates, with the understanding that they are still on call to report if needed.

— Approved an amendment to the city’s redevelopment plan creating a North Madison Development Area that is the next step in the redevelopment of the former Madison Plaza shopping site at Michigan Road and Clifty Drive.

— Approved changes to the PACE program establishing a sixth member on that board and defining the terms of members. Jefferson County Commission will now have a voting member on that board.

— Approved an amendment, with changes, to the Parks Board regulations on hours of operation for city parks and security and financial responsibility in terms of liability insurance.

— Heard a proclamation from Courtney that National Agriculture Day will be observed in the city on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

— Approved an executive proclamation by Holcomb recognizing March 15-21 as severe weather preparedness week.

— Heard a complaint by city resident Rick Reuss that severe weather warning sirens in the community were being over-utilized in a confusing manner that ultimately may lessen their effectiveness. Reuss said sirens should be reserved for tornado warnings rather than tornados and severe weather and that sirens are activated so often now that he thinks they are more likely to be ignored.

Courtney said severe weather and tornadoes are both a threat to the community and residents. He noted the city is reviewing policies on such alarms but he was not yet ready to make a recommendation to council.

— Heard a report by Courtney that the Board of Public Works has renewed its contract for solid waste disposal and recycling with Rumpke (as reported in Tuesday’s edition).

— Heard a report by Courtney that a joint city-county committee that has been studying the city’s 2-mile buffer zone has arrived at five recommendations and Jefferson County Council is expected to consider those proposals at its meeting on Thursday. If the county takes action the city would have to take reciprocal action after that to complete the agreement.

— Heard a report by Courtney that the city and county are also discussing and negotiating an agreement by which the city would help financially support construction of a new Jefferson County Jail. He said he would likely have more to offer on that proposal at a later date.

— Heard a report that the city will apply for federal and state funding to help mitigate the impact on COVID-19 closures on the city’s restaurant and bar businesses as well as acquire and fund emergency supplies for King’s Daughters’ Hospital if the outbreak gets to that point.

— Heard a report that former resident and Jefferson County Surveyor Jeff Daghir remains in critical condition and a “fight for his life” after being stricken ill in Columbus. Courtney asked for prayers and support for Daghir and his family.