Dowagiac City Council meeting canceled, bills still paid

DOWAGIAC — Dowagiac’s council chambers on the second floor of city hall lacked the usual discussion of a city council meeting Monday.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic weaving its way through Michigan, it was announced on March 17 that the city would cancel its second monthly city council meeting scheduled for Monday at the routine time of 7 p.m.

Following the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Michigan health officials, Mayor Don Lyons made the announcement.

With only one agenda item listed, the council intended to pay its vendors.

“Council had previously enacted a resolution that would allow them to pay bills in case a meeting was postponed or canceled,” said City Manager Kevin Anderson. “Vendors will still be getting paid.”

Despite the lack of a meeting, the council authorized Anderson and the city treasurer to pay $521,718.91 in bills. A list of the invoices is also posted on the city’s website.

The planning commission, which meets on the first Monday of every month, also canceled its April 6 meeting due to lack of agenda items and the coronavirus.

However, COVID-19 will not deter April 13’s Monday evening city council meeting from taking place.

Anderson said the past few days of his job had been dedicated to learning how the city can still host its public meetings while following social distancing guidelines and keeping the community safe.

The answer: Zoom Video Communications.

Already, local fitness aficionados and workplaces have begun using the group conferencing platform. Now, it is the city of Dowagiac’s turn.

“Under the governor’s new orders, we still have to have a way for public comment to take place,” Anderson said. “Zoom would allow for members of the public to speak to the council as they normally do.”

Through Zoom, attendees can join meetings via webcam, video conferencing camera or through their cell phone.

Anderson said a small group, possibly himself, the mayor and the clerk, would be on-site during the meeting while practicing safe social distancing. The remaining city council members would use zoom to join the meeting.

“There are a couple of folks who maybe haven’t used this technology before,” Anderson said. “We are confident we can get them up to speed.”

The city hopes to use Zoom in the future at other meetings as COVID-19 continues to have an increase of cases in the state of Michigan.

“We still have some testing and practicing to do with Zoom,” Anderson said. “It should be just fine for the foreseeable future.”

On Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order for non-essential workers. Beginning Tuesday, Dowagiac’s city hall was closed to all public traffic.

Emergency services, including the Dowagiac Police Department, Dowagiac Fire Department and the Dowagiac Department of Public Service’s essential utility services, are still fully functioning.

The city has continued using the phrase, “Stay Home — Stay Safe — Be Kind,” as it navigates through the COVID-19 pandemic.