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COVID-19 learning & connection opportunities: week of March 30, 2020

Notes from Noon COVID-19 Virtual Hangout

Posted on March 13, 2020


covid noon

ELGL hosted a virtual hangout at noon on Friday, March 13, 2020. These are the notes and video from the call.


Listen to the noon call

Reminder: ELGL has a crowdsourced resource page at ELGL.org/covid-19.

Question: How are your organizations managing Open Meetings Act requirements, while practicing social distancing?

  • Update from Dan Bolin, Ancel Glink in Chicago, IL: this is an issue that local government has been grappling with this past week. Many communities require a physical presence for quorum, and there needs to be a policy to change that. Some discussions at the state level to potentially change this. Some local governments doing emergency declarations to get around these requirements so they can do business and get local work done.
  • Julie T. from Ancel Glink: some states are looking into executive order to allow local officials to meet by phone, at least temporarily. Local government services are the most critical and essential (e.g. police, fire, utilities) and how to do we pay for these services and take other action, if meetings are not allowed with social distancing.
  • Feedback from CA about how they’re still doing meetings but keeping the numbers of attendees down so there aren’t large groups.
  • Feedback from Kyle, TX: cancelled an upcoming meeting so they have a couple of weeks (until April 7). Trying to limit public gathering by giving citizens alternative ways to engage with the meeting so they don’t attend, and also using public broadcasting channel to air meetings. 
  • Laura Reams: We are continuing with regular meetings but encouraging public testimony to be submitted electronically and encouraging individuals to watch the meetings on TV or stream online. Technically the meetings are still open to the public.

Question: Curious how communities are handling their regularly scheduled city council meetings, and the like? What has been cancelled, how are you handling closures?

  • Limited number of activities and events with 50+ people
  • Created a separate webpage on the city site and pushing information onto that
  • Will go on Facebook Live and also use public broadcast channel
  • Will limit P&Z and Court interactions that are not urgent so they’re not interacting with the public.
  • North Carolina regional and local governments are cancelling non-critical meetings for operations, and are working on eliminating or replacing regular community engagement functions 

Resource offering: Hi everyone, Alex Cottingham here. Director of Marketing/Comm for Citibot. We are not a gov entity, but rather a service provider for local gov to communicate with citizens via text/SMS messaging…Please let me know if this is not allowed, but Citibot is offering our Push SMS Notification services (ie text messages) to cities and counties for free for 60 days in hopes that they are used to keep citizens informed and up to date on COVID-19 in their communities. We are trying to do everything we can to help, and our hope is that this may be particularly helpful for smaller cities and counties without existing infrastructure to support Push SMS notifications. My email is [email protected] if I can help you in any way.

Question: How are local governments handling employee communications with far-flung employees without easy access to computers?

  • Caroline in Elk Grove, IL – this has been a discussion as schools are closing and employees are asking about how they can take care of families and still work. Their leadership team met to talk about ways to engage with employees who are working from home to get them the tools/resources they need.
  • Allie – State of Vermont uses an Everbridge system to do mass messaging to ensure that all employees have access to information.
  • James in Kyle, TX – most of us have been through EOC planning and COOP planning. Don’t recreate the wheel and this is a good time to stress-test the COOP. If you have a huge number of employees without access to tech, or if your agency doesn’t have tech, you’re behind the curve. Phone trees and org charts can be low-tech, old-school ways to make sure that employees are getting information. Obviously not terribly efficient but still a way to reach all employees.

Question: Also curious how you are handling upcoming primary elections if those take place in your state. Our mayoral and presidential primary election is April 7.

  • Julie in Chicago – LA is pushing their primary to June. Not happening in IL, even though most other Chicago government is shutting down or cancelling. 
  • Dan in Chicago – this is a fun time to be an election lawyer! Some talk about moving polling from sensitive areas (e.g. nursing homes), some talk on moving them from schools. Election is on Tuesday.
  • Greg in Norfolk – we’ve closed all city facilities to the public. If this continues for next couple of months, polling happens at churches and polls so how could we make these places open to the public. Infrastructure is not in place to do vote-by-mail.
  • Question if the ability to get a ballot mailed in advance (not absentee – but available on request). This is available in Vermont.
  • Texas elections are over, uniform election date for local election is in early May.

Question: My Mayor is very concerned about the impacts that the state government could be placed on municipal governments. Is anyone seeing impacts at the local level (beyond school closures) that have a local impact?

  • In IL, the Governor banned events with 1000+ people and called for limited events with 250+ people. This could change.

Clarification: it’s more about a concern that the state could mandate or change the ways local governments provide essential services.

Question: What are the anticipated impacts on operations?

  • James in Kyle, TX: the vast majority of office/city hall functions have the ability now to work from home via technology resources; cloud based tools and work. Vast majority are able to work from home and have flexible work arrangements.
  • For facilities and employees in the field and emergency services personnel: trying to limit the number of meetings happening face to face. Switching to virtual briefings at shift changes. In Public Works, looking to split staff into two teams on 14 day rotations.
  • Trying to limit face to face trainings and interactions in PW as well. Looking at limiting the number of doors that people can come in and out to only the automated doors. School district is looking at reverse lunch delivery on buses and pick up lunches for walkers. 

Question: What are people doing about inventory and keeping track of supplies?

  • Some good feedback about asking your local medical providers to be the messenger on not hoarding supplies.
  • Some discussion on China-produced local government supplies and materials that might be in shortage.

Question: It sounds like everyone on this call (that is chatting or speaking at least) is in municipal orgs that are taking this quite seriously and are possibly located in areas where there are more cases. I think b/c we have so few confirmed cases in WI, our local gov is not taking this seriously? Anyone else (you don’t have to say where you’re from) in an org that doesn’t seem to be too stressed about this?

  • Heard from others that they’re experiencing this and they’re taking a tempered, measured response, especially when public sentiment isn’t matching that. Community members saying things like, “You’re not going to be a government that freaks out about this.” Trying to speak logic about “flattening the curve” and also trying to plan ahead for the worst case scenario. Trying to reiterate the message about keeping employees healthy so they can provide services. 
  • Have not had any communications from their local health department which is concerning. So, messaging has fallen to the local government and they’re trying to prepare the community about what’s to come. The same generic message that most people are using. 
  • Some discussion about how libraries are doing good communications about increased focus on cleaning and also keeping open to provide essential services.

Interesting point: Tel Aviv is allowing small businesses to not pay taxes for the next six months. Concurrence that we can’t forget the huge impact this has on local businesses. Reminder that even if you don’t go out to eat, order delivery or buy gift cards. 

Information shared about water systems are not doing shut-offs, providing credits for people who need help with payments, or people who only pay in person at city hall. 

Interesting idea: Geofencing – use a digital fence around your community to use Facebook, email, Google for outreach in your community – either visitors to or through, or community members.

From Zencity: if anyone here finds it useful, we just published a report about concerned raised by residents in 100+ cities

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