By Jack Mayne
A smiling Mayor Matt Pina opened the regular meeting of the Des Moines on Thursday night (March 26), sitting several feet from others as the City of Des Moines is currently operating under a proclamation of emergency issued on March 5, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Other Councilmembers attended by telephone. Some viewers and staff were in the room at a distance.
South King Fire and Rescue said its emergency operations center has opened.
Those of the public who actually attended the meeting at Council chambers were screened for the virus before being allowed in.
Public comment by writing
Under the emergency proclamation, gatherings of more than 10 people are discouraged in order to stem the spread of the virus. As a result, the Des Moines City Council will be suspending public comment during Council meetings and will be limiting the business conducted to essential matters only.
Public comment is still encouraged but will only be accepted in writing, either by email to the City Clerk at [email protected] or by mail to the Des Moines City Clerk, 21630 11th Avenue S., Des Moines, WA 98198. City Council meetings will remain open to the public but can also be viewed live on Comcast Channel 21 or live streamed on the City’s website at www.desmoineswa.gov.
Pina said “from now until further notice, Council will strictly be responding to two types of issues, routine which you can see. The vouchers are an example of that on the agenda and the action associated with the response to the COVID-19 health crisis. Until further notice, staff have been asked not to attend Council meetings and we are looking for ways to have them participate through video conferencing.”
He called roll on the conference line and all were on their respective telephones.
There will be no personal comments accepted, but Pina said comments could be made in writing, mail or email, and would be part of the record. The Council meeting are on Channel 21 or streamed live on the Des Moines city website.
Pina highlighted the role of the Council under emergency restrictions.
“Individual Councilmembers acting on their own have no responsibility in an emergency for taking actions that are not coordinated with the Council as a whole,” Pina said, asking City Manager Michael Matthias to comment.
What the city is doing
“I wanted to point out a couple of things we are doing as a city,” Matthias said.
After the virus became known from the outbreak in a Kirkland nursing home with some fatalities, he said the city initiated a number of actions to try to respond to the virus. That was at the same time as the state and federal governments were searching for their responses.
All senior state and first responders are having daily briefings that are continuing, he said.
“We were one of the first to go to telecommuting, which we have done with our staff,” Matthias said. “All of our city facilities are literally closed with the exception of the senior activity center where we have been providing in the neighborhood of about 60 lunches a day delivered to seniors in the parking lot.”
He said that telecommuting has been “relatively successful” and they are getting more information from the governor on what actions can continue and what cannot “to protect our community and staff.”
Roles of responsibility for emergency management were spelled out by Matthias including those for Councils. “Elective bodies have specific duties in this system,” he told Councilmembers. “It is vital the Council, acting as a whole … understand these duties and perform them.”
Matthias said individual Councilmembers “do have an operational role…” and they are supposed to support the “public service officer” from the fire district in relaying information. The information is what the public information officer, from the fire district, says and is not the information from the specific individual Councilmember.
The city at some point will have to consider how to get reimbursed for some of the costs and “that may involve advocating at the county, state or national level to receive the resources we need to respond” to the virus emergency, Matthias said.
State of emergency
Fire Chief Vic Pennington, former Des Moines Councilmember, said that South King Fire and Rescue had declared a state of emergency “and we opened up our emergency operations center.” He said keeping fire department staff, paramedics and private ambulance workers healthy is a primary concern.
“South King Fire and Rescue has had 12 members quarantined at various times during this event,: Pennington said, “I’m happy to report that all are healthy and all have returned to work and all of our firefighters have tested negative for COVID-19.”
Fire and Rescue personnel are screened at work twice and if they are “symptomatic they are sent home. We have to keep a healthy workforce in order to provide the services to our citizens.”