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No glitches – Charles City Council makes smooth transition to remote online-accessed workshop

  • Parks and Rec Director Tyler Mitchell was one of the few people inside the council chambers at a City Council planning workshop on Monday evening in Charles City. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Chairs remain empty for the public to sit in to listen in on the remote-accessed City Council planning workshop that took place on Monday evening in Charles City. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • The Charles City Council conducted its planning workshop meeting via remote access on Monday evening in Charles City. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

By Kelly Terpstra,

City leaders hosted the Charles City Council’s first-ever remote online planning workshop conducted via the software application on Monday evening.

The public was able to attend the planning session in person, but was encouraged to follow along online to witness the video conference meeting that went off with little to no hiccups.

The transition to online streaming allowed most council members to sit in and take part in the workshop from locations away from the council chambers.

This move to maintain social distancing has been taken by many public bodies across the nation in response to the spread of the coronavirus.

It also means some city officials will be working at home this week, starting today (Tuesday).

“We’re working day-to-day on this evolving COVID-19 virus pandemic. We’ve implemented some working strategies here within the city,” said City Administrator Steve Diers.

Diers said city staff who work out of City Hall will be allowed to work from home for a period of time and then back at the office on other days during the week.

“We’ve got it basically broken out into two teams and each day a team will work from City Hall – the other day we’ll work from home remotely. We’ll just alternate back-and-forth until we see that we’re in the clear here for an undetermined amount of time,” said Diers.

Charles City restricted access to City Hall and most city offices last week.

“All of us will still be available, we might just not be physically at City Hall at that time,” said Diers. “It’s just trying to implement that social distancing aspect. It’s kind of a new thing that we’re all trying to learn and wrap our arms around.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds last week issued an emergency proclamation that ordered no gatherings of more than 10 people in social, community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure and sporting events.

Diers said the city is also trying to come up with a plan to let Charles City police officers work two 12-hour shifts in a row then take two days off. This would allow less transfer of officers between shared squad cars.

“We’re trying to take steps to keep people safe,” said Diers.

Diers said he is working with the Police Department’s union to relax the overtime rules that apply to officers from the current overtime after 8 hours on a shift to overtime after 40 hours worked in a week.

The city’s public transit system is also taking precautions to reduce the chance of coming in contact with the virus, Diers said. Transit drivers are folding up seats so riders can’t sit near each other.

He said ridership was down about 40 percent and most rides only have one or two passengers on them. Diers also said he knows that for many people in town, the public transportation system is the only way they can get around and that it is important to keep the buses running to pick up passengers.

“We look to have that operating for the long term,” said Diers.

Parks and Rec Director Tyler Mitchell was physically present in the council chambers to discuss obtaining depredation tags to conduct another deer hunt at Wildwood Golf Course.

Last winter, hunters used their own deer tags to bow hunt at the public golf course and Mitchell believes that is the reason only two deer were killed – one doe, one buck.

The city had planned to issue six hunting permits to help control the deer population that had damaged greens and trees on the historic course, but only four hunters applied and provided the city the necessary paperwork and passed a limited background check.

Mitchell has been in contact with Ross Ellingson, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources depredation biologist for Floyd County’s district.

The two had discussed either offering hunters a citywide tag that would allow them to hunt in all city-owned parks, or to designate the hunt to only Wildwood park, in which case the city would have to prove more than $1,000 damage was caused by the deer.

“He said we qualified for this year and that would allow us to get depredation tags for this November,” said Mitchell, who added that deer have caused damage to green, trees and other plants over the winter.

Mitchell and Ellingson said the second option – just allowing bow hunters the ability to hunt on Wildwood grounds – was what they were leaning toward. Mitchell said more than likely four permits to bow hunt in that area would be requested.

“With the amount of attention this little thing gathered last year, I think we just want to try to keep it to the Wildwood area and not start letting people think they’re going to be hunting in Central Park and everyplace else,” said council member DeLaine Freeseman.

Mark Wicks, community development director, discussed a facade application submitted by the Dental Center in Charles City. The business at 703-705 N. Main, owned by Dr. Ken Sheckler, is requesting almost $5,500 in funds to help with an $11,000 project to replace aprons on the building and cover outdoor basement access with steel panels.

“The building is dated. This will help,” said Wicks.

The City Council will review the design committee’s recommendation at an April 20 council meeting.

Diers and his colleagues also discussed the possibility of replacing the workbooks/tablets city leaders and council members use at meetings. Diers said the city spent about $300 apiece on the current ones and is looking to purchase some new computer equipment that would cost in the neighborhood of the $450-$500 range for each device.

“Obviously it’s more pertinent now than ever, having the ability to have a quality workbook,” Diers said. “I know the ones we have are kind of on their last legs.”

City Engineer John Fallis said the Planning and Zoning Commission is recommending Marvin Planning Consultants to be the firm to re-write the city’s zoning ordinance. The cost of that low-bid was $25,000 and would be completed as soon as May 2021.