City Council and County Board halt meetings amid Covid-19 spread

After voting on Covid-19 related items, Omaha City Council will reconvene April 21 while the Douglas County Board of Commissioners will meet April 7

The virus that causes COVID-19 isolated from a patient in the U.S. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

Omaha City Council members met Tuesday for the last time before a five week break in an effort to reduce public gatherings and slow the spread of Covid-19.

The City Council approved two items in connection with the pandemic of which Nebraska has 18 cases,  the majority of which being in Douglas County. The first, an ordinance to provide 80 hours of paid administrative leave to all full-time city employees with part-time and seasonal employees receiving a prorated amount. Those hours are available from March 16 to July 1.

The council approved the item unanimously.

Councilman Pete Festersen said this is a good first step, however, he would support adding more hours as the effects of the crisis becomes clearer.

“I do think this is the right thing to do for now as we handle this step by step and make sure that our employees are taken care of,” Festersen said.

The Council also approved a resolution extending the Mayor Jean Stothert’s ability to declare a state of emergency from 72 hours to up to eight weeks. Councilman Brinker Harding said the resolution is pre-emptive and expedites the city’s ability to fight Covid-19 by declaring a longstanding state of emergency rather than a new one every three days.

Before passing the item unanimously, several council members praised city government as well as nonprofits and community organizations in tackling a crisis of which “we haven’t seen before.”

The city council also voted to waive the third readings of two ordinances. The second of those ordinances is a cost participation agreement between the city and Creighton University to improve North 24th Street between Chicago and Cumming Streets. Creighton University will lead the project with the city reimbursing costs for design and construction, which will include “paving, pedestrian and storm sewer improvements,” up to $3,893,857.

City council will meet again on April 21. In the interim Councilman Chris Jerram said the council would pursue options to broadcast meetings with ways for the public and media to participate.

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners met for its last time before April 7.

During its meeting, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley spoke to commissioners about how the courts and jail are adjusting to recommendation by local, state and federal government. From exceeding the public gathering cap of 10 people in mass public arraignment hearings to being unable to keep people six feet from each other inside the Douglas County Department of Corrections, Riley said the judicial system faces challenges.

“If someone gets sick over there, it’s likely we’ll have a real significant situation,” he said of the jail.

To combat the issue, Riley said he and others are trying to expedite low bail cases to keep the jail population, which is around 1,200 people, low.


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