The Great Bend City Council will keep its meetings at City Hall and not move them to the Events Center for now, the council decided Monday night. The decision came despite objections from Ward 4 Councilman Brock McPherson, who expressed concerns over increasing area COVID-19 case numbers.
To allow for better social distancing due to the pandemic, the council moved its meetings to the Events Center in the spring of 2020. This past November, because of a waning COVID threat and the need to rent the room the council used, they returned to City Hall.
“You read the paper and this COVID is getting worse. It’s not getting any better,” McPherson said. “I just want your record to reflect I don’t agree with you and I think we should be back out there where we were before.”
However, city officials said conflicts will arise since the conference room used by the council is booked solid. The problem comes in the time it takes to set up and tear down the streaming audio-visual equipment required for the council meetings.
Discussing the move
“At our at our last meeting, there was some discussion about the possibility of relocating back to the Events Center because of the uptake in COVID cases,” City Administrator Kendal Francis said. The meeting room that was used has been rented out for most of the remainder of the year.
“I wanted to visit with you to see if you wanted to look at other options, or remain here,” Francis said. He had visited with Mayor Cody Schmidt Monday about re-installing the plastic dividers that had been used to separate council members in the chamber.
The dividers were used early in the pandemic when the council met at City Hall, but the meetings were closed to live audiences. Then, at the height of COVID, the council spread allowing for more separation.
He was looking for some direction from the council on how it wanted to proceed. “If it’s not a concern, it’s not a concern, and we’ll continue as we are.”
“I’m not concerned,” Schmidt said. “So I’m leaving that up to council to make that decision.”
“Well, I am concerned,” McPherson said. “This COVID thing is getting worse.”
Besides, “I don’t I don’t think that room is being used in the evening when we have our meetings,” McPherson said. “We’re supposed to be the council. Why aren’t those things available to us? Why should we have to look for other space? I don’t see that room is rented in the evening to anybody.”
A popular venue
“I think part of the problem is that you have to get the room ready,” said Ward 2 Councilwoman Jolene Biggs. There is a lot of work involved in getting the microphones and recording and video equipment ready.
“I think there’s a lot of setup that has to be done for each of those meetings,” she said. This effort is very time consuming.
“That really is the biggest hold-back on us,” Francis said. This set-up would limit how that how that room could be utilized by outside groups willing to pay for it.
“It hasn’t been used for the last two weeks, but I will tell you we are packed starting next this week on,” said Christina Hayes, community coordinator and Convention and Visitors Bureau director. “I’m proud because I’ve done my job and I’ve been renting out those rooms the way I’m supposed to.”
The room used by the council is booked for 12 events in the next month alone, Hayes said. “Those are paying customers.”
“Well I don’t care if they’re paying customers. I know I’m not a paying customer,” McPherson said. “But, I sure as heck think the council should have first chance.”
“I think we do Brock,” Schmidt said. “I think we can make alterations in here to protect us if that’s the direction you guys want to go.”
He was not in favor of closing the meetings to in-person audiences. This could also mean closing City Hall and he doesn’t believe that’s the direction the city should go.
And, “I just I kind of look at everybody in this room and I don’t see a mask one on anybody’s face, but one,” Schmidt said. “So I don’t know how concerned we can be at this time if we’re not going to do our thing to put a mask on.”
It was Ward 1 Councilman Alan Moeder who brought the idea up at the last meeting.
“I’m going to watch numbers,” Moeder said. “If the numbers keep growing, I’m going to say spread us out. And if we need to go back to wearing masks, we need to go back we’re a masks.”
“So, for now, you guys want to hold off (moving), that is how I’m taking it?” Schmidt said.
“I don’t want to hold off. I don’t think it is beneficial to the council,” McPherson said.