Council approves interim city manager contract, takes steps to curb spread of COVID-19

Homer City Manager Katie Koester served at her very last Homer City Council meeting on Monday before she takes off for a new job with the City and Borough of Juneau, and the council voted to approve a contract with Interim City Manager Marvin Yoder.

Yoder is a veteran of Alaska municipal government, and has served as an interim city manager for Homer in the past.

The council voted unanimously to approve his contract of a roughly $9,300 per month salary after council member Heath Smith made an amendment deleting a section of the contract that referred to expenses for professional development. Traveling for professional development shouldn’t be necessary for an interim manager, Smith said. Koester said the only out-of-town meeting she would anticipate that Yoder might attend would be the Alaska Municipal Leage.

The council also tried to get used to their new way of conducting business while exercising responsible social distancing in the wake of the novel coronavirus sweeping through the state in steadily increasing numbers. There are no confirmed cases in Homer, but the council isn’t taking any chances. Only limited people, including Mayor Ken Castner and Smith, were actually present in the Homer City Hall council chambers — the rest called in and participated telephonically.

Council members repeatedly struggled with hearing one another and many of them were not audible over the KBBI public radio broadcast of the meeting. Castner and council members acknowledged the technology side of conducting meetings this way is something that needs to be ironed out.

Taking more steps to protect the city from the spread of COVID-19, the council also officially voted to allow telephonic meetings for city council members. The council also passed an emergency ordinance that suspends meetings of advisory committees and commissions, like the Planning and Zoning Commission, for 60 days or until the local COVID-19 emergency declaration is lifted. The ordinance makes an exception for time sensitive actions normally dealt with by the planning commission, like conditional use permits, City Clerk Melissa Jacobson clarified.

Council members also voted to appropriate $50,000 for preparation and response to COVID-19 locally.

Going an extra step toward the side of caution, council members unanimously approved an emergency ordinance that suspends the city’s ban in thin, single-use plastic bags for 60 days or until Homer’s emergency declaration is lifted. Introduced by Smith, the ordinance does not delete the ban from city code, but suspends it temporarily.

Smith and others said they have been hearing from the managers of local grocery stores, who worry for the safety of their employees who have to touch reusable fabric bags brought in by customers. They worry that germs associated with the novel coronavirus will linger on those bags and infect store clerks.

“I don’t know that there’s any sense of overreaction at this point,” Smith said. “I think that taking all precautions is something that’s going to be important to make a difference here. And so, hearing from our local stores and their concerns for their employees — if their employees are put at any additional risk, it creates a problem with them being able to maintain a workforce.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council voted to ratify the disaster emergency declaration made by Castner on March 18. The resolution council members approved also extends the declaration for 90 days.

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