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Port Huron City Council members keep their distance at meeting

A screenshot of socially distancing practice by the Port Huron City Council, as seen on the recording of the March 23 meeting posted on YouTube.
A screenshot of socially distancing practice by the Port Huron City Council, as seen on the recording of the March 23 meeting posted on YouTube.

Board cancels April 13 meeting

By Jim Bloch

Nine officials are typically seated at the table for the regular meetings of the Port Huron City Council, generally held on the second and fourth Mondays of the month in the Municipal Office Center.

On March 23, with the council practicing social distancing, only four members of the council sat behind the council table as the meeting started: Mayor Pauline Repp, Mayor Pro Tem Sherry Archibald, and council members Lisa Beedon and Ken Harris.

City Manager James Freed and City Clerk Cyndee Jonseck, who normally sit at the council table, sat in the audience.

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“In the interests of staying away from each other, we’re all sitting six feet apart,” said Repp, as heard on the recording posted on the city’s YouTube channel. “If you can’t see member (Scott) Worden, he is here. He is in the audience. We’re going to conduct as much business as we can and get it over very quickly.”

Anita Ashford was absent. Jeff Pemberton arrived 11 minutes into the meeting and took his normal seat between Harris and Repp, tightening space between the council members.

The council approved a resolution cancelling its regular meeting on April 13.

That “will give us five weeks between meetings, so we hope that everything is back to somewhat normal by then,” said Repp. “If not, we have the option of pursuing this on an electronic basis, but the rules were just passed late last week and we didn’t have time to set this up so the public could be involved.”

On March 18, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed executive order 2020-15 that allowed a temporary change to the Open Meetings Act, permitting public bodies to conduct their meetings electronically.

“We are taking every measure we can to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and protect Michigan families, but recognize that public bodies still have an obligation to conduct business as usual,” Whitmer said in a statement. “During this crisis, we must ensure that public officials can do their job to meet the needs of residents, while also ensuring that meetings remain open, accessible and transparent to the public.”

“We do have to have (our meetings) open to the public,” said Repp. “That’s why we’re meeting tonight.”

The council passed two additional resolutions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It extended the city’s income tax filing deadline from April 30 to July 31, authorizing taxpayers to defer payments due on April 30 to July 31without penalties and interest. It also endorsed Freed’s administrative directives in regards to city operational changes during the pandemic, which are in effect at least until April 15.

“On behalf of the council, we certainly hope everybody stays safe and adheres to the social distancing as we are doing here and to staying home if you’re not feeling well,” said Repp. “Certainly call a doctor if you get any of the symptoms and follow all of the guidelines the health department has put out there.”

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