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Mercer to hold telephonic meetings

 

March 20, 2020

Tom LaVenture/Daily Globe

Town of Mercer residents sit in spaced chairs to attend the Board of Supervisors meeting Thursday at the Community Center. The spacing was the recommendation of the Wisconsin Department of Health to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus. Future board meetings will be telephonic until the pandemic is over.

By TOM LAVENTURE

[email protected]

MERCER, Wis. - The town of Mercer Board of Supervisors on Thursday unanimously approved a recommendation to conduct meetings by phone or video conference call.

The regular meeting was held in the Community Center to be able to have chairs six-feet apart to avoid the potential spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Rather than continue with meetings that require a labor intensive disinfecting process the board decided on the electronic format for the foreseeable future until the pandemic subsides.

Township attorney Fritz Schellgell said that with exceptions the electronic meetings are not a violation of state open meeting laws as long as the public is allowed to observe. The rationale came from a U.S. Department of Justice advisory, and information from the state Attorney General's office.

Participation means that the town must provide information about the meeting to the public and how to access the meeting whether it is phone, internet or other electronic media. The limitations to electronic meetings occur when the public does not have reasonable access.

"We may have some limitations come up and we will have to deal with it," Schellgel said.

The need is clear given the state mandate that closes schools, bars and restaurants and limits the ability of direct government services, he said. Teleconferencing is preferable to the potential to expose anyone to the coronavirus.

"Why take chances on risks when teleconferencing fits the bill to continue the business of the town of Mercer as it needs to be conducted," Schellgel said.

The first electronic meeting will be a special emergency meeting today at 11 a.m. Information on attending electronically will be posted at townofmercer.com.

The board agreed to the meeting after Eric Snow, a town supervisor, said that discussions about township readiness regarding the pandemic cannot wait until the April 2 regular meeting. The only action at the meeting will be to consider the hierarchy of command for the emergency powers resolution the board approved on Thursday.

The resolution for the proclamation of declaring an emergency pursuant to state statute gives the town board chair, John Sendra, discretion to exercise temporary closures or access to facilities, roads or other actions necessary to protect the public health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The special meeting today will be to determine two other board members to serve as first and second backup to Sendra should he not be able to exercise the duty. The declaration allows for emergency meetings with a two-hour public notification.

Snow brought up discussion for future action to determine the need for the township to re-ensure emergency responders about serving during the pandemic. Volunteer fire and ambulance personnel need the equipment to do the job without risk of exposure to coronavirus, he said.

Snow said the township also needed to provide some assurance that should a first responder become ill and self-quarantine that they would receive call compensation as they would with their regular jobs.

Schellgel said he would have a memorandum to work from for the special meeting. This was not an agenda item for the Thursday meeting, he said.

In other business, the board approved:

-A transitional rental housing request for Timothy Lutgen, at 2147W Leisure Lane.

-A signage permit for Rita Bock, at 5219N U.S. 51

In his report Sendra said that the April 7 election will proceed as scheduled. He encourages residents to request absentee ballots from the town office to help avoid a crowd on election day.

Two scheduled meetings regarding fisheries personnel transfers with elected officials and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will be rescheduled for May or June depending on the pandemic.

 
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