Ely council takes action

Library, Rec Center to close; other city operations continue, no local emergency declaration

by Tom Coombe
Ely council members met in emergency session Monday to address the coronavirus crisis, but the city is stopping short of declaring a city emergency.
The public library and recreation center will close, travel for city council members and staff will be limited and committees will meet only on an as-needed basis, but mayor Chuck Novak said “there’s no intent to have a local emergency declaration” and instead follow guidelines set by the state and federal governments.
Novak also added that “I don’t think we’re in a position” to mandate the closure of restaurants, bars or other businesses.
“We don’t want to overstep things,” said Novak. “We also want to be cautious.”
The mid-afternoon meeting was unlike any held at City Hall, with council members and those in the audience sitting at least six feet apart to comply with “social distancing” suggestions to deter the spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.
As of Monday, 54 people had tested positive for the virus in Minnesota, although none were in St. Louis or neighboring counties.
Novak indicated that Tuesday’s regular council meeting would go on as scheduled, at 5:30 p.m., with the same social distancing requirements and an attendance cap at 49, including council members and staff.
The council, with six members present and Angela Campbell participating via cell phone, also voted unanimously to cancel the monthly study session, scheduled for Mar. 31.
The city has closed its recreation center while the public library will close to patrons and curtail programming starting Wednesday.
Librarian Rachel Heinrich indicated however, that people may order library materials via phone for curbside pickup.
“We would do some limited pickup,” said Heinrich. “We’ll let people call in and we would put together a prepack of books. Say they like mysteries, we would put together 10 mystery books for them and check them out as a pack.”
Police and fire operations “are up and running and here to respond,” Novak said, although the mayor said there’s a concern about “protective equipment for them - it’s limited and unavailable.”
The city’s utilities and public works departments will continue to operate, but meter readers will not enter private homes to conduct readings during the crisis, and instead place hangars on doors for residents to self-report.
City staff will continue to be paid during the crisis.
“The intent is to not have any city employee negatively impacted, relative to pay,” said Novak.
Committees are on their own to determine if meetings are necessary, while travel to St. Paul and elsewhere for city business has been placed on hold.
Novak will serve as the city’s public information officer and indicated city officials will continue to meet on an as-needed basis.
“We want to be proactive,” said Novak. “We want to be deal with this emergency situation that has been declared nationally and at the state level responsibly. We don’t want to impose severe restrictions that prevent people from normal day-to-day activity as much as possible.”