On Monday, May 11, Trinidad City Council convened via virtual conference for a work session where they discussed the topic of conducting meetings in person.
“The paramount concern is everyone’s safety,” said City Attorney Les Downs. “There’s a strong move affront to actually not wear masks and maybe that’s OK, maybe it’s not. But if any one of us were a coronavirus positive, then we run the risk of infecting other people. Another concern I have is that it would be very difficult if we were to have regular meetings now and still limit the number to no more than 10 [people]. It really, logistically, I think, from a practical matter is just unworkable.”
Councilmember Erin Ogletree brought up that in some instances, holding meetings via virtual conference presented some difficulties, but overall, she said it’s giving others in the community a chance to tune into the meetings who may have not been able to before.
“One thing we might have a problem with is when we run into a quasi-judicial kind of hearing where we have to evaluate the presenters,” said Ogletree. “We’re going to have to think of some way to handle that, but so far we’ve not had to deal with that. I have not heard complaints from the community about it. In some ways it may be easier for people to attend this way than to come down to City Hall.”
With sometimes as many as 30 people in attendance online, Mayor Phil Rico said he felt even as they begin to meet in person again he’d like to see the ability to access council meetings online continue.
“It may not be a bad idea to continue to carry something like this on down the road,” said Rico, “to give the community the opportunity to listen in some more.”
Rico also added that they would need to begin planning how an in-person meeting would go with social distancing restrictions in place in the event that they would need to conduct an evaluation or other quasi-judicial agenda item.
Council also discussed an electronic attendance policy following a suggestion from Councilmember Ogletree and Downs said he was supportive of the notion. Once meetings return to normal, having an electronic attendance policy would allow councilmembers to attend meetings electronically if they were out of town or otherwise unavailable.
“We would need an ordinance that would allow you to do this if one of you were going to be needing to appear in an electronic format,” said Downs. “It does make sense to have limits on this, like a number of times the council person could do this consecutively or per year.”
Others on council agreed with the idea brought forward and councilmember Mattie added that right now, creative ideas such as virtual attendance were ultimately going to bring the city into a positive future.
“I believe the whole world is changing before our eyes and as much as we would like things to be the way we’re accustomed to, that’s not going to happen anymore,” said Mattie, “and we need to be open to new, creative, different ideas.”
City Manager Mike Valentine also supported the idea adding that they would move forward with presenting an ordinance to allow for electronic attendance with some regulations.
The council also looked at the preliminary first quarter 2020 financials and heard an update from the city’s finance director, Cheryl Navarette. The update proved to be a great deal more positive than was expected.
“We actually collected $365 more than last March, which is very good news,” said Navarette. “Mike had projected a loss in liquor sales of five percent when actually there was a gain of 14 percent. Marijuana was projected at a loss of 15 percent but it only came out to be a four percent loss. Motels projected a 50 percent loss, but actually it was only 17.5 percent.”
On the flipside, restaurants turned out to be a bigger loss than projected.
“They [restaurants] were projected a loss of 50 percent but actually had a loss of 55 percent,” said Navarette, “and same thing with fast food. We had a projected five percent loss when it was actually a 21 percent loss.”
Navarette also added that the “other” category brought in more money than expected and helped to keep everything afloat. That category included grocery stores, online ordering, vehicle sales, and anything and everything else not in the other items already listed. There were also other record breakers that were somewhat unexpected under the current circumstances.
“Marijuana sales for the month of March were about $500,000 more than last March, so that’s very interesting,” said Navarette. “They did do some panic buying and we brought in about $19,000 more than last March.”
With so many unknowns, Navarette said they would be keeping their projected loss for April of possibly $100k to $150k but added that they just aren’t sure at the moment.
Council all agreed that the next step in planning should be developing a road to recovery plan moving forward and encouraged everyone in the community to continue thinking creatively for solutions.