City Commissioners, staff discuss COVID-19 issues

Ponca City Now - March 23, 2020 8:05 pm

Technology was a major player in the Ponca City Board of Commissioners’ meeting, which dealt primarily with the COVID-19 pandemic Monday night.

Only three commissioners attended the meeting — Vice Mayor Paul Taylor, Mayor Homer Nicholson and Commissioner Shasta Scott. Absent were commissioner Ryan Austin and Lanita Chapman.

City staff aired the meeting on the city’s Facebook page live, as well as Cable Channel 56, to allow residents to observe without risking being in a crowd.

Another change of note — the commissioners who were present spread out on the dias, leaving a vacant space between seats.

Assistant City Attorney John Andrews and City Manager Craig Stephenson sat on the main floor, at a table normally reserved for reporters.

In his report, Stephenson said changes caused by COVID-19 have moved really fast, with modifications in some operations. He said certain transactions with the Police Department, such as filling out many traffic accident forms, were being done online as much as possible.

Stephenson said some events will go as scheduled, although the Citywide Garage sale has been canceled.

Spring cleanup will still occur March 28 through April 4.

In the agenda item to discuss COVID-19,  Stephenson said the virus “has consumed our lives here recently.”

City staff changes, he said, include:

Closing the Marland Mansion, Marland Grand Home, Library, RecPlex and some billing office adjustments.

“We’re still taking payments,” he said. “City Hall is open and utility customers can slide payments under a glass window.”

All other functions are  available online.

“We are being flexible in payment arrangements, but the bills don’t go away,” he said. “These are challenging times.”

In addition, he said, the Recycling office is closing until further notice. SCL will pick up recycling Wednesday for the last time.

“The RecPlex is closed,” he said. “They will be doing deep cleaning, draining pools, painting.”

While they are closed, they are also going through the dressing room lockers, where staff has found many towels.

“One locker had 17 towels,” Stephenson said.

While the RecPlex is closed, trainers will be offering virtual fitness programming on the City of Ponca City, OK, Facebook page.

The library also will be closed, and  staff is moving things around to make things new and exciting. Staff will offer a virtual story hour, as well as adult discussions.

“We want to keep part-time staff employed,” Stephenson said.

Meanwhile, Stephenson said, “We’re continuing to pushing hand washing. That’s probably the best thing you can do. We have

cleaning products that work very well.”

In addition, Stephenson said Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Sunday night that the State Health Department will be bringing a

mobile testing site to Ponca City, which will be starting this week sometime.

“We provide a location and security,” he said. “The rest is up to the Health Department. How many kits they will have, we have no idea.”

“Ninety percent of what Ponca City does is essential services,” Stephenson said. “Police, fire, ambulance, trash, water, streets — they are all essential services.

The City Manager also said management has discussed the “Families First Corona Relief Act,” which provides for 14 paid days off for employees who are advised to self–quarantine. That Act starts April 2.

Mayor Nicholson said “Staff is really dug in deep on this. We’re all trying to mitigate the spread of COVID -19, from the President, the CDC, the Governor, the city and individuals.

“We repeat everything you’ve been hearing at every level — Keep your distance. Sanitize. No one has a silver bullet.

“Dr. Fauci says it will get worse before it gets better. The public has to plan because this is the new normal.”

The Mayor said he has been getting a lot of criticism, through phone calls, in person and on Facebook.

“People need to understand we are trying to solve this from the bottom up, not the top down. Some people are complaining because other people are going to the store. I don’t understand what some people are thinking and saying,” Nicholson said. “Think about what you’re thinking and saying. Look in the mirror, talk to the mirror..

Commissioner Scott said a lot of businesses have chosen to lock their lobbies.

“Restaurants are serving take out only. People are doing the right thing, but they still have utilities to pay, staff to pay,” she said. “We don’t want to be a dictator. We hope people have enough common sense. It’s a really tough situation we’re going through, along with the rest of the world.”

Commissioner Taylor said “Businesses have rights. You have rights. That doesn’t mean the other guy doesn’t. Perception is reality. I would encourage citizens to go to the CDC page.

“My comment — I think things are going well as far as services the city offers,” Taylor said. “Everybody just be kind. Have a good attitude and everybody be nice to each other.”

The mayor added “Staff has laid awake nights. Please be calm.  Please deal with it until we’re through this. Whatever happens on Facebook is another life.  We have access to a lot of information that helps us make our decisions, the best for our citizens.

“People need to be employed, safe, calm and happy. It’s an impossible goal,” Nicholson said. “We’ve modified some of our responses.”

For instance, he said, “First responders also need to be protected. Municipal Court was pushed to April 17. It’s fluid, we’ll move through it.

City Manager Stephenson said the pandemic is “very hard and very abrupt.”

Commissioner Scott raised a question most asked by some citizens.

“People are asking if we will mandate that restaurants close only for takeout and if gyms must close,” she said.

“Those are decisions the board must make, not staff,” Stephenson said.

Nicholson said he has a meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday with Gov. Stitt and 25 mayors out of the 650 in the state.

“He’s trying his best to keep cities informed about what he’s doing and taking charge. He’s doing everything in his power to take care of  citizens.”

Commissioner Taylor remarked about how resilient the citizens of Ponca City are.

“I think of the ice storm and being without power for a week. There were some hardships. We’ll get through this like we did then.”

Nicholson said  “a lot of concerns are self-induced. Stay home. Keep your distance. Sanitize. Use common sense. Yes, it’s a great inconveneicne. It may be that we  have not seen anything yet. Practice yourself what you expect others to do. We trust our people are smart enough to do this.”


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