The City of Bethel has responded to the public’s demands that it take strong action against the coronavirus threat. In their meeting on Tuesday, March 24, Bethel City Council passed its first emergency ordinance in response to COVID-19. Council will meet in an emergency meeting on Wednesday, March 25 at 2 p.m. to consider adopting a declaration of local disaster emergency. Mayor Perry Barr and Acting City Manager Bill Howell already signed the declaration Tuesday, which kick-started the process.
Howell says that one aspect of the disaster declaration is that it allows the City of Bethel to request relief funds from the state and federal government, but there’s another, much longer section in the declaration that issues health recommendations.
“We felt that this would create a greater awareness for the things that people could do to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Howell said.
The document advises and requests travelers cease all non-essential travel into Bethel, and that people in Bethel stay at home as much as possible. Mayor Perry Barr says that as a second class city, that’s as far as Bethel can go.
“We can strongly advise people, and recommend that they stay home and shelter in place and keep their social distancing, but that’s about all we can do,” Barr said.
Public pressure has been mounting for the City of Bethel to enact measures to protect the region. At the beginning of last night’s council meeting, City Clerk Lori Strickler read testimonies from the public urging council to do so.
“This one is respectfully submitted by Beverly Hoffman and John McDonald: 'The emergency is now, we encourage steps to be taken now before it becomes a disaster,'” Strickler read. “This next submission comes from Leonty Johnston, 'In my opinion, Bethel should shut down everything.' This next communication comes from Irma Goodwine: 'I plead to you, our council members, to come up with a preventative measure plan before it becomes out of control.'”
The council passed its first emergency ordinance in its regular meeting Tuesday night, one which will give them a little more flexibility and tools to handle a crisis. It allows the council to meet telephonically, and it empowers the city manager to cancel or postpone meetings, expedite purchases, adjust personnel leave time, and extend deadlines for payments due to the city.
Howell says that he heard the comments from the public urging the city to do more, and he says that played a role in the decision he and Mayor Barr made to sign the disaster declaration.
“I feel everyone should be concerned. This is a very serious matter; the city is approaching it that way as well,” Howell said. “Once again, we are urging folks to remain calm, be patient. We are listening to your suggestions and your thoughts, and they are important to us.”
In other updates, Howell says that the city’s public transit is still operating, but taking precautions. The bus's normal 12-person occupancy limit has been reduced to six to allow more separation, and the surfaces are being frequently cleaned.
The open seat on Bethel City Council will remain unfilled until a special council meeting on April 9. Council Member Alyssa Leary said that with the coronavirus pandemic going on, she felt that people may not have had an opportunity to submit interest in the position.
The council will meet on March 25 for an emergency meeting where it will consider adopting a declaration of local disaster emergency. KYUK will be broadcasting that meeting live at 2 p.m.
Correction: Bethel City Council will meet to fill the open council seat during a special meeting on April 9, not a regular meeting.