With COVID-19 precautions and mandates announced on what seems a near daily basis, rural and regional governments are scrambling to keep business running while keeping in line with Ohio law.
Tattoo parlors, barbershops, salons, day care centers, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles regional locations, seated restaurant dining — these and many more are what's been ordered to close to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. On Sunday, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered that beginning at 11:59 p.m. Monday, March 23, the state would be under a "stay at home" order, limiting Ohioans chances of going places and encountering people.
In light of this, some changes have been made to how governmental meetings are held, if they can be held.
On Monday, March 16, Athens City Council met in regular session, but how the meeting played out was anything but regular.
The meeting began with a reading of the Ohio "Sunshine Laws," which refers to Ohio's public records and open meetings laws, referencing sunshine shining in to allow citizens access to information on what their elected officials are doing. Under these laws, public bodies that meet in Ohio, such as city councils and commissions, are required to be open to public attendance, or provide record of what occurred during the meeting.
Meetings are defined as prearranged gatherings with a majority of a public body who intend to discuss public business. Any such meetings must be publicized at least 24 hours before it is to take place by notifying the media outlet of record in the area and pertinent individuals.
Because of this, the March 16 Athens City Council meeting needed to be publicly accessible, but social distancing guidelines needed to be observed as well. Council members Arian Smedley, Jeffrey Risner and Sarah Grace all appeared via a video chat, and members Peter Kotses, Chris Fahl, Sam Crowl and Beth Clodfelter all were present in person, in addition to Mayor Steve Patterson and President of Council Chris Knisely.
That created a need for new rules: Anyone calling in was not allowed to vote or make any motions. They were allowed to comment, are were not counted as present.
Nelsonville City Council, which ordinarily is recorded onto CDs which are then available for request at City Hall, is not able to accommodate Sunshine Laws during the pandemic, and cancelled its meetings through April 13.
The Athens County Commissioners have also taken steps to stay compliant but remain in operation. The body was intended to meet Monday, March 23, at 9:30 a.m. The main purpose of the meeting was a series of bid openings for a project in Nelsonville — but the County Courthouse Annex, 15 S. Court Street, is closed to the public.
On Thursday, March 19, the body met in the hallway of the Annex, with Commissioner Chris Chmiel calling in over video chat and giving up the opportunity to vote or make any motion. The set-up seemed to work fairly well, but a new method needed to be implemented for Monday morning's meeting.
At 10 a.m., Commissioner Charlie Adkins and Commissioner Clerk JoAnn Rockhold could be found with a desk, recorder and bids set up outside of the Annex on Court Street's sidewalk.
"We're making it work," Rockhold laughed.
From there, it was business as usual. Several projects had bids submitted.
The first project was for flood and drainage facility improvements in Nelsonville. Three companies submitted bids for the project, which is to replace two failed storm drains at the corner of Chestnut and Second Streets.
- D.V. Weber Construction, $56,540.
- Wilson Excavating and Grading, $43,165.80
- Jackson Brothers Construction, $53,650.
The second project was for stone bids to provide Athens County and the villages and townships within the county with limestone aggregate and asphalt products. Bids for stone came from Cochran Transportation Service Inc., Melvin Stone Company, Diamond Stone Company and Shelly Materials Inc.
One bid was received for asphalt, from Asphalt Materials Inc. out of Marietta.
Bids are expected to be awarded at the next County Commissioner meeting, scheduled for March 31 at 9:30 a.m., and likely will be livestreamed.