City commission meetings take coronavirus precautions

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The coronavirus did not cancel several city commission meetings in West Michigan, but local leaders made changes to reduce risks.

The Kalamazoo City Commission taped off seats, so people who did attend were spread out in the room.

Taped off seats for social distancing during the Kalamazoo City Commission meeting. (March 16, 2020)

Commissioners also had new seating assignments and were positioned at least six feet apart. The meeting did not see a big public attendance.

Social distancing during the Kalamazoo City Commission meeting. (March 16, 2020)

Commissioners approved a temporary measure allowing the city manager to sign off contracts or purchase agreements up to $5 million that are already in the 2020 approved budget. According to city manager Jim Ritsema, the measure was implemented in case the city commission is not able to meet because of COVID-19.

“The reason the amount is so high, to $5 million, is because we have some fairly significant capital improvement projects coming up,” Ritsema said.

According to South Haven City Clerk Travis Sullivan, local leaders encouraged people to stream its commission meeting online and submit questions electronically.

“These decisions I think were made in the best interest of everyone — residents, city council members, city staff,” Sullivan said. 

Members of the public must be let inside if they show up in order to comply with the Open Meetings Act, but city leaders say the public seems willing to cooperate.

Taped off seats for social distancing during the Kalamazoo City Commission meeting. (March 16, 2020)

“Governments continuing to function at least helps to provide some sense of normalcy to people,” Sullivan said.

Kalamazoo Mayor Dave Anderson says the city is working to ensure the government can continue to operate.

“There are critical services that every entity, but the city in particular has to provide: clean water, waste treatment, fighting fires, public safety. We want our own staff that are doing that work here to be safe,” Anderson said.

Kalamazoo will temporarily close public access to city buildings on Tuesday, with the exception of the KDPS lobby, which will remain open.

“This is a time to show true community, as with every other issue. It may not affect everyone entirely, but because we’re a community, if some of us affected, we’re all affected,” said Kalamazoo Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin.

Kalamazoo is also suspending water shutoffs and telling people they can call 311 to have their water turned back on if it is already off.

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