Red Lodge Mayor highlights City plans

Friday, March 27, 2020

From Mayor Bill Larson, Red Lodge.

“I wanted to take this time to update you about the progress on city council meetings and the guidance received.  On Tuesday, Governor Bullock issued a Directive Implementing Executive Orders 2-2020 and 3-2020 that provides guidance for local governments.

 

Under Governor Bullock’s Directive, local governments may modify hours that are open for the transaction of business.  At this point, I do not see the need for this as the City staff and department heads have continued to work regular hours, handling calls and emails from customers and handling city business as normal.  The Directive provides guidance for local governments with regard to employee vacation and sick leave, modification of the work-week hours and salaried employee work hours.  As I said, so far this has not been necessary for our City. 

 

     Below is the portion of Governor Bullock’s Directive regarding office hours for cities:

 

o Local governments are not relieved of state law requirements to maintain office hours for those offices and functions that are necessary for the maintenance of public health and human safety.

o Local governments must, whenever practicable, continue providing services via phone or other electronic means to limit the disruption in outward facing government services as much as possible and practicable.

 

 

Most importantly, the issue of city council meetings was addressed by the Governor.  The Montana League of Cities and Towns, which provides assistance and guidance to cities and city attorneys, has requested guidance in the form of a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s Office with regard to the issue of public meetings and the legal requirements that must be met legally. 

 

            Governor Bullock made the following directive regarding public meetings, i.e. City Council Meetings:

 

o Local governments are encouraged to find ways to provide for the right of public participation consistent with social distancing practices, including virtual participation where legal and practicable.

The Montana League of Cities and Towns through the Bozeman City Attorney and the President of the Montana County Attorney Association have drafted guidance for public meetings during the COVID-19 emergency in a way that is considered best to protect public health and safety.  Their proposal to the Attorney General includes allowing for ongoing critical local government operations and provide for public participation.  This is all in consideration of the different types and forms of local governments that exist pursuant to Montana Statutes.  The various differing local governments established under Montana statutes have different statutory and local rules governing notice and conduct of public meetings.

 

The authors of the request for a legal opinion stated, “each public agency should discuss the best protocol to

follow with their respective local government attorney and executive staff before making any

decision about when and how to proceed with a public meeting during the COVID-19 emergency

pursuant to these guidelines.”

 

The request for guidance from the Attorney General presents a number of proposals from the writers which include the following:

 

            1.         Cancel Non-Essential Meetings.

            2.         Limit Public Meetings to Critical Items Only.

            3.         Determine the Type Meeting.

            4.         Noticing the Public Meeting.

            5.         In-Person Meetings.

            6.         Meetings by Remote Communications.

 

As we all await a response from Attorney General Fox’s office, the City will continue to conduct office hours and City Hall will remain closed to the public.  Please utilize email, drop box or call to handle payment of your water bill or other issues.   The City has taken numerous measures to deal with public health and safety during this crisis.  From reading information provided by Governor Bullock, guidance from the Montana League of Cities and Towns and communications with other size comparable cities, Red Lodge is handling this crisis as many other cities and towns are. 

 

There has been some discussion about live remote of a meeting.  There is more involved than just having everyone appear via computer or phone.  Under the law, there are requirements that must be met.  That is what we are working with the Montana League of Cities and Towns to accomplish.  So, I ask for your patience and calm during this storm.  It is my goal to uphold the law even during this crisis. 

 

This pandemic is unlike anything our state and country has ever encountered.  These are trying times for families, businesses, government and workers.  As these trying times progress, please remember your neighbor and be kind to each other.  This is a stressful, fearful and uncertain times for everyone.  We will get through this pandemic and be stronger when this is over.  I ask for your patience, understanding and prayers as we work to keep the City running, healthy and safe."  

 

 

 

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