KEARNEY — While businesses and other entities in the city were able to begin returning to work on Monday, May 4, per the Clay County Public Health Center's ending of stay-home orders across the county, many functions of Kearney city government will continue to be done remotely through May, according to City Administrator Jim Eldridge.
“City managers folks have been talking about the actions they are taking and we'd like to recommend a similar action to what our neighbors are doing, which is continuing the separation of staffs and splitting staff duties and recommending keep City Hall's foyer closed through May and employing work from home solutions and refine them as best we can,” Eldridge told aldermen during their digital board meeting Monday.
Since City Hall staffers like Eldridge, water billing clerks and members of the community development departments have been working remotely, Eldridge said there have been no issues that have gone unaddressed and that he has received no complaints from residents.
“Our citizens are well-informed. They are not coming to the door, wondering why things are the way they are. We've not had any situation that we couldn't immediately deal with,” the city administrator said. “... I don't think it's a burden to our community to continue that way.”
While some city staffers will continue to work remotely, city amenities like the skate park and pickleball courts next to Kearney High School off 19th Street reopened Monday. The basketball court in Lions Park off Jefferson Street also reopened, but playgrounds and park bathrooms throughout the city, including in Jesse James Park, remain closed, according to the parks and recreation department.
The city's recycling and compost center off 19th Street, which was open during stay-home orders, will remain open, but mattresses and electronics are not accepted.
In addition to having city staff work remotely, Eldridge recommended aldermen continue to meet digitally through Zoom with meetings streamed on YouTube as the dais in City Hall and set up for in-person public meetings is not conducive to social distancing guidelines outlined in stay-home order expiration directives from Clay County Public Health Center. The city administrator says he knows holding meetings, including planning and zoning hearings that were previously delayed due to COVID-19 closures, via digital resources is not ideal as members of the public, including those older who are at high risk of contracting coronavirus, would like to attend a pending public hearing May 18 on development in the Greenfield area of the city. However, holding digital meetings is for everyone's safety, he said.
“I think we need to reach out to those folks and encourage them to find ways to either be represented or give us written comments,” Eldridge said, adding he will work with those who do not have computers or internet access to come to City Hall on a reservation basis if needed to provide public hearing testimony.
Mayor Randy Pogue said he approves of continuing digital meetings, saying members of the public who wish to comment can do so by phone during Zoom meetings.
“I know not everybody has a camera on a computer, or a computer for that matter. However, if you have a telephone, you can join Zoom and call in and not have to be seen over video,” he said. “If our residents are capable or able to make a phone call, they would still have the opportunity to have their voices heard live. … It would be my opinion that we would push forward with the delayed public hearings.”
Pogue added that he appreciates staff, elected leaders and the community's efforts to work together to get through the pandemic.
“When you follow the directions and orders, it allows us to stay healthy,” he said.