The Newberry Commission agreed to enter a General State of Emergency on March 17th.
“We know why we are all here,” Mayor Jordan Marlowe said as he opened the emergency meeting. “The president has declared a State of Emergency, the governor has declared a State of Emergency, Alachua County has declared a State of Emergency,” he said.
“We are here following suit to make sure that we stay ahead of this.”
City Manager Mike New explained that the purpose of the declaration is to expedite decision making because it allows decisions to be made without convening the City Commission.
“It offers staff an opportunity to waive our normal procedures for conducting business and enter contracts, incur obligations, address employment, utilize volunteer workers,” he said.
“It authorizes us to change our business practices, waive our regular policies for how we conduct business so that we can be more nimble and responsive to the needs of our community.”
During a State of Emergency, the city manager can also enter into contracts, purchase and distribute supplies and appropriate and expend public funds.
The declaration will be in effect for 7 days but can be changed for a longer period and it also opens up the City for FEMA reimbursement of monies spent during the emergency, New said.
Decisions are in the works, New said, about closing the City buildings and facilitating employees working from home.
Commissioner Tim Marden was absent do to being out of state on business and there were no community members in attendance for the meeting.
“This situation changes every two or three hours,” Marlowe said about mandates from the State and County. “People are asking what they are allowed to do now and just as soon as I answer the question, an hour later, it’s different.”
The city manager noted that he has the ability to extend the emergency declaration after 7 days.
City Manager New explained the chain of command as it pertains to mandates put in place in reaction to the COVID-19 virus. As of 8 a.m. on March 18 confirmed case sof the virus totaled 201,530 people globally, 6,496 people nationally, 216 people in Florida and 6 people in Alachua County, including four UF students who recently traveled internationally and to New York.
The Feds and FEMA are in charge, they delegate to the State of Florida who delegates to the County and cities work under them, New said and added that, “In these types of declarative emergencies we’re not as apt to stray away from the County or the State.”
New itemized decisions made by the state that affect Newberry citizens.
Bars and nightclubs were closed at 5 p.m. on March 17 for 30 days, public beach gatherings are restricted to 10 people with 6-foot spacing between people. Restaurants are required to change occupancy to 50 percent with 6 feet between tables. Alachua County passed an emergency order that included the Governor’s recommendations of the same restrictions.
The County addressed indoor and outdoor groups to not surpass attendance of 50 such as movie theaters and churches. All movie theaters in Gainesville announce they were closed on March 17 until further notice. The sale of food and beverage in restaurants is limited to hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Seating at bars is prohibited, and seated parties is limited to 10.
“This applies to Newberry,” New said, and added that restaurants must screen their employees by asking them the required questions about recent travel and about COVID-19 symptoms.
New also said the County is asking all non-essential employees to work from home and noted that County buildings are closed and that Newberry followed suit closing city hall but keeping the drive-thru window open.
According to New, the building department remains open, Easton sports complex is closed to regular guests, but the daycare center remains open and outdoor parks are open with crews sanitizing playground equipment.
“Watching what the rest of world does, we’re listening to the medical community and we’re seeing how it fits our community and responding,” New said and added that the City is making enabling staff to work from home a priority.
Mayor Marlowe announced that the City is moving forward with April 14 elections and encourages citizens to vote by mail and those ballots are available at the City Hall drive-thru window or by calling (352) 471-2446.
Mayor Marlowe also thanked candidates for foregoing campaigning door-to-door and cancelling any meet and greets in order to maintain social distancing. He assured residents that the voting process will be safe with space between voting booths, hand sanitizer available and waiting lines will be outside only.
The public will be allowed to attend city commission meetings in person, Mayor Marlowe encourages people to watch meeting via live streaming.
New said he expects meeting frequency for the City Commission to be decreased and Mayor Marlowe said he is removing non-essential item from future agendas.
“We are going to need to postpone West Fest,” Mayor Marlowe said and added that he has asked for the upcoming April 4 soil ceremony and the Opioid Task Force sponsored walkathon to be postponed and they have been.
“It’s important to lead by example,” Mayor Marlowe said about groups convening against CDC standards.
Destiny Community Church Pastor and Commission Rocky McKinley said he is working with local churches to help them reduce attendance.
“There are a number of churches in the city including ours that are doing online services at this time,” McKinley said. “We are trying our best to eliminate those crowds.”
City Manager New reminded McKinley that the crowd limit is a County mandate and not negotiable.
New added that local community feeding programs can still operate, but only as take out.
Mayor Marlowe ended the meeting by encouraging citizens to stay calm.
“All of these preparations are good and they are right and they are the right thing to do.
“But panicking never helps. We do have local businesses that need to stay open because they’re providing hand sanitizer and gasoline and groceries. I ask that you, in a responsible way, support those local businesses. If a business has to shut down but has an online option, please consider using it.
“Any way that we can continue to support the local economy and show those businesses that we appreciate them putting public health and safety above their own profit is great, but we also want to make sure they are able to reopen when this all calms down.”