Governments keep running and strive for transparency
ALPENA — Governments in Northeast Michigan will limit their operations so only essential workers are serving the public as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday signed an executive order requiring Michiganders to stay in their homes unless absolutely necessary.
Whitmer’s Monday order allows essential workers to travel and perform their jobs, while all others are asked to shelter in place. The “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order is effective today and continues until April 13.
Residents are still allowed to get groceries and medications, seek medical care for themselves and their pets, take care of a loved one or pet in another household, and enjoy the outdoors. Banks are still open for drive-thru service, and restaurants still can offer drive-thru or pick-up services.
Area government officials vowed that essential services such as police and fire, ambulances, snow-plowing, water and sewer, and street repairs would continue. They also vowed to do what they can to comply with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act while following state and federal “social distancing” mandates and recommendations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some Northeast Michigan governments, however, lack the technology or the technological know-how to connect residents to government meetings remotely.
As of Monday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Northeast Michigan, even as the statewide tally topped 1,300, with 15 confirmed deaths.
District Health Department No. 4, which serves Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency, and Cheboygan counties, says it has sent 52 tests COVID-19 tests to the state and has so far received 26 results, all negative.
District Health Department No. 2, which serves Alcona, Iosco, Ogemaw, and Oscoda counties, on Monday reported 54 tests had been submitted to the state, with 23 results received thus far, all negative.
The coronavirus prevention efforts continued to ripple through Northeast Michigan:
∫ Alpena Resource Recovery Facility will pull all of its recycling bins from around the county starting today. County residents are asked not to leave anything at those sites and to hold onto their recyclables until the bins are returned to their respective sites. Presque Isle County residents are asked to hold on to their mixed containers. Collection of papers, boxes, and bags will continue there.
∫ District Health Department No. 4 on Monday announced it has closed offices to the public until further notice. The Health Department will continue to provide as many services as possible by appointment only. Call 1-800-221-0294 to schedule an appointment.
∫ Alpena Public Schools announced it will still make food available at scheduled pick-up times at Alpena High School and its elementaries, but will not drop food off at bus stops.
∫ The Thunder Bay Transportation Authority announced it would offer Dial-a-Ride services from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays only, unless it’s for critical health care appointments.
As Michigan and much of the country shuts down to slow the number of infections, Alpena County, Alpena, and Alpena Township have closed their offices to the public and many of their employees are working from home. Residents can do business through mail, drop boxes, phone, and email.
Township Supervisor Nathan Skibbe said the township has invested heavily in technology the last several years and, making working remotely and conducting meetings via telephone and video possible. The public still will be able to comment in those virtual meetings.
Monday’s township board meeting was the first shared via that technology, but others will follow. Skibbe said there may be some hiccups along the way, but they will be addressed.
“This will allow the public to participate and continue the practice of transparency that we practice and believe is very important,” Skibbe said. “There will be a learning curve, but we have to do everything possible for our constituents so they know what is going on in local government.”
At the township meeting on Monday, a large flat-screen television was set up, displaying trustees’ faces and their voices through its speakers. Monday, at least, the meeting and the new use of technology was executed without a hitch.
Alpena County, however, lacks the technology to share meetings digitally. County board Chairman Bob Adrian said that, to meet the Open Meetings Act requirements, meetings will still need to be held in person.
“We’re working on things right now, but, right now, we don’t have the capability,” Adrian said. “We will do whatever we can to get by and comply with the restrictions. We have people among us who are high-risk, so we really don’t want to be at a meeting, either.”
Rogers City Mayor Scott McLennan said city officials are exploring ways for some of the elected officials to work from home and are scaling back on non-essential activities such as scheduled street projects.
“We’re taking those steps to keep everyone safe,” McLennan said. “We absolutely are supportive of the governor’s order to stay at home.”
The Rogers City City Council will hold its next meeting on April 7 virtually via Zoom, an online video conferencing service. McLennan said city officials are still working out details for how the public can participate during public comment.
Alcona County Board of Commissioners Chairman Craig Johnston said the board will continue to meet at the county building and broadcast the meeting over Zoom. He said the public will be able to attend the meeting online through a link on the county’s website.
The Montmorency County Board of Commissioners does not have the capability of meeting remotely, the board’s administrative assistant, Christi Cross, said. The board called an emergency meeting for today to discuss employee pay during the governor’s shelter-in-place order.
Cross said the public would be able to attend the meeting and masks would be available for the public to wear.
“That’s the best we can do in these circumstances,” Cross said.
ENFORCING WHITMER’S ORDER
Police officers will not stop people for being out and about, Alpena County Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski and Alpena Police Department Chief Joel Jett said separately on Monday.
People congregated and showing signs of noncompliance may be approached by an officer, Jett added.
The Alpena County Sheriff’s Office and Alpena Police Department have each received notifications of business not following the governor’s orders. In those cases, owners have been understanding when approached by police and asked to comply, Kieliszewski and Jett said.
If individuals are not compliant with the governor’s orders, or businesses try to find a loophole to stay open, enforcement action will be taken, Jett said. The law allows judges to impose misdemeanor fines and penalties on those who violate the order.
The Michigan State Police has no plans to randomly stop people or perform any coordinated campaign to inspect businesses to ensure compliance with the governor’s order, spokeswoman Shanon Banner said. However, “executive orders do carry the weight of law and the MSP stands ready to enforce any aspect of these orders, if needed,” Banner said.
Trial courts must continue to provide essential functions, such as arraignments for in-custody defendants, review and determination of requests for search warrants and personal protection orders, certain child protective proceedings, and critical issues regarding child support and child custody, according to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Court spaces are limited to no more than 10 people, and technology will be used where possible to limit the people present.
Reporters Julie Riddle and Meakalia Previch-Liu contributed to this report. Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com. Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or email@example.com.