The Longboat Key Town Commission on Monday unanimously approved a resolution that gives the town manager emergency authority to cancel public meetings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Town Manager Tom Harmer said Longboat Key is prepared to hold its April 6 commission meeting electronically.
“We are evaluating the logistics and process to do that,” Harmer said. “We believe that we can accomplish that in time for that meeting.”
Harmer said the remote meetings would only include items that are time-sensitive.
The town’s decision to cancel some meetings and hold others remotely comes after several executive orders from Gov. Ron DeSantis. The state has taken steps to restrict business operations to protect against the spread of COVID-19. It includes the suspension of dine-in service at restaurants and the closures of gyms throughout Florida.
Town Attorney Maggie Mooney said they are figuring out the logistics for what video conferencing and teleconferencing means in the terms of a public meeting.
"So, it is not just as easy as sending a link, or giving you a dial-in conference call," Mooney said. "We are all working really hard to figure out what does public participation in a video conferencing or telephone conferencing look like?"
Longboat Key already offers live streams of its commission meetings and records them for later viewing on its website.
On Monday, Harmer also recommended the town cancel its goals and objectives workshop meeting scheduled for April 20.
“That's a morning meeting that the commission typically holds and invites the community in to present ideas or thoughts or recommendations for the commission as you're planning the next budget year,” Harmer said. “We need to cancel that meeting, but still offer the opportunity for input.”
For the month of April, Harmer said the town would try to get written feedback from community groups on their input for commissioners to consider.
Mooney echoed Harmer’s sentiments.
“We still have the obligation to publicly notice all of our meetings,” Mooney said. “We have to provide the public with an opportunity to be heard, and we have to have the minutes taken in each and every meeting of this commission.”
A meeting is considered two or more members of the town commission, Mooney said.
The town followed through with Monday’s meeting because it had to legally. The commission voted for Ken Schneier to serve as the town’s mayor, and for Mike Haycock to serve as vice mayor.
Two women — B.J. Bishop and Sherry Dominick — were also sworn in to the commission.
Bishop expressed her concern about the tourists arriving in Longboat Key and the people visiting on spring break.
“They are putting our grocery-store employees and our drug-store employees at tremendous risk because we don't know where they've been,” Bishop said.
Harmer said the town’s Publix and CVS stores have taken precautions by having employees use hand sanitizer. They’ve also wiped down surfaces and shopping carts, Harmer said. The town’s Publix also limited each customer to one case of water, one package of toilet paper and one package of paper towels.
While the town has closed public recreational facilities, Bishop said some private ones continue to operate.
Harmer said he’s recommended closing these facilities in conversations he’s had with condo associations.
“The town is not ordering private buildings or recreation centers to close down,” Harmer said. “The governor has been dealing mostly with that through his orders related to beaches and gyms and fitness centers and bars and pubs, etc.
"We've been if we see an area where we see gatherings that we are meeting with them explaining to them and encouraging them to take action.”
As of Monday morning, data from the Florida Department of Health shows Manatee County has 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus and Sarasota County has 19 cases. The positive tests include a member of Temple Beth Israel on Longboat Key and a resident of the Privateer condominium complex.
So far, the 34 confirmed coronavirus cases in Manatee and Sarasota counties are among people who are at least 50 years old.
Of about 6,700 full-time residents in Longboat Key, roughly 69% are older than 65 years old.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than 15,000 people have died from coronavirus, including 14 in Florida.
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