The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted Tuesday (March 31) to suspend town hall meetings for April, May and June in order to comply with directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
The Fort Smith Municipal Code states, “Following adjournment of the regular board meeting held on the first Tuesday of each month (or, if applicable, to its rescheduled date), the board shall conduct an informal town hall meeting at which citizens may introduce matters involving city government to the board of directors.”
Because of health concerns regarding the COVID-19 virus and in order to prevent the further spread of the virus, the board unanimously passed an ordinance suspending those meetings for the next three months. Scheduled town hall meetings for April 7, May 5 and June 2 will not be held.
The board also passed an ordinance allowing board meetings through June 30, normally scheduled to be held at the Fort Smith School Service Center on Jenny Lind, may be moved to the Fort Smith Convention Center, 55 S. Seventh St. City Administrator Carl Geffken said notice on the location will be given prior to the meetings.
“Due to the Fort Smith Public Schools being closed, the ordinance allows for the meetings to be held either at the School Service Center as usual, or to be moved to the Fort Smith Convention Center at the city administrator’s discretion. The prior adopted ordinance did not accommodate a location other than the school service center. If the School Service Center is unavailable or the space required for appropriate social distancing of attendees is larger than that room, the meeting could be moved,” said a memo from Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman submitted with the ordinance.
Three board members — Lavon Morton, Keith Lau and André Good — attended Tuesday’s meeting via telephone. The board passed an ordinance March 17 allowing board members to participate in meetings remotely by telephone or other electronic means through June 30. Both of the ordinances adopted Tuesday, combined the one from March 17, “are attempts to continue conducting city business while also (complying) with social distancing directives as we encourage people to stay at home and avoid public gatherings greater than 10 people,” Dingman said in the memo.
All city board meetings and study sessions are broadcast on the city’s cable access channel and live-streamed on the internet by way of the UStream app. In a media release March 25, it was announced that supplemental procedures were adopted for board meetings: “Based on public health concerns regarding the COVID-19 virus, the public is encouraged to watch the television broadcast or live-streamed internet broadcast of board meetings rather than physically attending board meetings.”
It was also noted that any member of the public can comment on item of business on the published agenda of the meeting by delivering a written comment (no longer than 200 words) to the city clerk no later than 30 minutes prior to the start of the meeting. Emails also are encouraged to [email protected], the notice said. Written notices delivered by appropriate time will be read at the meeting. No messages were received prior to Tuesday’s meeting, said City Clerk Sherri Gard.
The provisions do not prohibit members of the public to attend the meetings, the notice said.
“This does not mean the city is closed,” Geffken said at the meeting. “The mayor’s office is open for citizens to reach out with comments or questions. The water department is still open for questions on water bills. All departments are still open. We are just mitigating the potential for our employees to be harmed. The city is still conducting all necessary services.”