All members of the Ketchikan City Council participated in Thursday’s regularly scheduled council meeting, two telephonically, upholding the mayor’s declaration of an emergency, and giving more powers to the city manager’s office.
Abner Hoage, Ketchikan Fire Department chief, working as the emergency manager for both the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and City of Ketchikan, addressed the council on the second confirmed case of COVID-19 in Ketchikan. Hoage directed residents to the City of Ketchikan and Ketchikan Gateway Borough websites for up-to-date information.
Since last week, Hoage and other city officials have said that they were expecting coronavirus would come through the Ketchikan International Airport, and it has.
At the start of the council meeting, Council Member Mark Flora reiterated a question he’s received from multiple community members:
“Would there, or would there not, be a benefit if there was screening at the Ketchikan International airport for people arriving in Ketchikan?”
Hoage said that there could potentially be some benefit. “The problem is, and we’ve explored this quite a bit so far. According to our attorneys, right now they’re advising us that we’re unable to do that due to federal regulations.”
He said the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center has reached out to Alaska Airlines to try to see whether it has any plans, and they’ve reached out to the state EOC, to request that the governor attempt to do something about this with the federal government.
“We have not completely taken off the table of doing it ourselves,” said Hoage. “It would be very manpower intensive, and we would have to make arrangements to do that.”
The City Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance that would allow members to meet telephonically without having a required number of members physically present.
The ordinance, 20-1907, also gives the city manager’s office more authority to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, both financially and otherwise.
This includes entering into contracts necessary to protect the health and safety of people and property and provide emergency assistance to victims affected by such a disaster. Authority also includes restricting or regulating the use of city property or facilities as necessary to protect public health, safety and welfare.
Council Member Dick Coose objected to the fact that the ordinance sunsets Nov. 1. He said July 1, seemed reasonable, and the council could easily extend it if need be. He also said that the mayor and vice-mayor should be consulted on every decision.
“I think you want to have the flexibility,” said Amylon, “and not be hamstrung by the code to be able to implement rapid solutions to issues as they are identified on a daily basis.”
The City Attorney, Mitch Seaver, said the ordinance does not supersede anything in the city charter.
Amylon further reassured council members that he has been in contact and will continue to be in contact with the mayor on decisions taking place. He said it would help the local government be more flexible because nobody knows where this is going, and the community is seeing things it hasn't dealt with before.
“There’s some pretty scary stuff going on,” said Amylon. “California has ordered everyone to stay home. I never would have envisioned that a couple of weeks ago.”
In other action, the council considered awarding a $231,521 contract to BAM LLC for the construction of a deck to view the salmon ladder along Creek Street.
Coose voted no, saying the urgency was gone for the project, citing the delay in the cruise ship season due to suspensions and port closures. He was not supportive of spending money given an anticipated drop in commercial passenger vessel funds, saying the money might be needed elsewhere.
Council Member Emily Chapel said that BAM LLC employs many local workers, and that construction projects have slowed down and that delaying the project might put more people out of work and exacerbate the effects of the current health situation.
The motion passed 6-1.
During the manager’s report, Amylon said the city has identified about 100 positions where it would be possible to work from home. He said that any Ketchikan Public Utilities or city employee that has returned from down south — either for work or on their own time have been quarantined for 14 days on their return to Ketchikan. However, he added there were exceptions that the city was making to that “because their presence at the workplace is necessary to keep essential services functioning.”
During council member comments, Chapel said more needs to be done to help the community understand the gravity of the virus. She said she was at the grocery store earlier in the day and not a single person was abiding by social distancing recommendations.
“We need to be more aggressive in our approach,” said Chapel. “I think this spreads like wildfire…” She said she doesn't think there should be exceptions for people who are traveling out of town to be working in city buildings.
“Maybe we can’t close the airport, but we do have a local entity that controls that ferry and people that come to this island. I think we need to be at the forefront in the solutions that we're coming up with and I think we need to be — this is urgent, we literally declared an emergency.”
Two executive sessions, one discussing proposals from port holding companies to run the day-to-day operations of Ketchikan’s ports and the other discussing a plan to bus passengers from Ward Cove to downtown Ketchikan, were not held.
There will be more written about Thursday night’s council meeting in a later edition of the Ketchikan Daily News.