Council meets under pandemic restrictions

Meg Hibbert Contributing writer

Photo by Meg Hibbert
Members of Salem City Council observe pandemic distance guidelines as they study items on the agenda March 23 at South Salem Elementary School. From left, they are John Saunders, Bill Jones, Mayor Randy Foley, Vice Mayor Jane Johnson and James Martin.

Salem City Council met under pandemic restrictions March 23 as members authorized issuing $34.7-million in improvement bonds primarily for improvements to Salem High School.

The meeting was in South Salem Elementary Cafeteria where members, staff and the public could spread out to meet recommended space guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to a report on how the city is facing and meeting pandemic challenges, the biggest item Monday night was passage on second reading of the bonds to be issued when the time is right, according to Finance Director Rosie Jordan.

The money will be used to expand classrooms, corridors and other spaces, as well as part of the roof of the school opened in 1979. G&H Contracting of Glenvar has the contract do the project.

  • In the work session before the meeting, Councilmembers also discussed guidelines for adding a time on each month’s agenda to allow for citizen comments. Members said they would like to get feedback from citizens.

The idea is to open the meeting, hold a work session, then allow about 20 minutes for a comment period.

City Manager Jay Taliaferro said Council could start comment periods by May.

  • Council reaffirmed the declaration of the city-wide local emergency declared on March 17 and signed by the city manager. It became effective at noon on that day.
  • As part of the response to the pandemic to limit working in close conditions, some city employees are working from home, and others are in the Salem Public Library, which is closed for now, and the former Carilion building on West Main Street. That building is owned by the city.
  • Council passed an ordinance to modify public meeting and hearing practices during the pandemic that would allow the Planning Commission, School Board, Economic Development Authority and Council to delay action on items that ordinarily would be acted on within a timeframe.

Taliaferro said the provision would give Council and other bodies more flexibility if they cannot meet during the health crisis.

  • Council also passed a resolution establishing a written policy for Council members to participate electronically from a remote location. That would have to be arranged in advance, with members using the privilege up two twice a year and approved by Council.

The audience at Monday night’s meeting was made up of a dozen people, including a student who was meeting requirements for a school civics class, and Renee Turk, one of six candidates running in the May election for three open seats on Council.