Council Discusses Local Economy In Virtual Meeting

Lakewood government continues to function during enforced social distancing, but sustaining the local economy is now a priority challenge. That’s the condensed version of Lakewood City Council’s April 6 meeting.

The meeting format was a first for Lakewood, with all participants attending virtually, either online or by phone. Council last met on March 16, in a mostly traditional gathering at City Hall but without in-person public attendance. City Council moved to the completely remote format, following a statewide Stay At Home order and legislation making formal allowance for virtual public meetings.

About three dozen people joined the April 6 meeting, including elected officials, city employees, and members of the public. Technical issues slowed or interrupted the meeting at various points. But in general, the experiment proved that technology will allow meetings to continue, while avoiding in-person gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The extended closure of many Lakewood businesses will be a pressing issue for community leaders, judging from the council discussion. Patty Ryan, governance chair of LakewoodAlive, told council that the extension of Stay At Home orders through April has increased local businesses’ concern: “They thought they could make it to the sixth [of April] and now they’ve extended it to May 1.”

Mayor Meghan George said that the public health work of her administration’s Coronavirus Task Force has gone relatively well—while still meeting multiple times per week “the meetings have gotten shorter”—but big challenges for Lakewood businesses remain.

George and Lakewood Alive Executive Director Ian Andrews both described the city’s Rent Relief Program as an early success. Andrews said that the program, providing grants for storefront businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19, had aided 60 applicants as of March 6. George said that the program has already become a model for many other cities; “we’re getting phone calls from as far away as Orlando, Florida.”

Responding to a multi-month Stay At Home order, however, will be an ongoing job. “We’ve done a lot in a little bit of time, but there’s certainly more to do,” said George.

Mayor George has lined up additional help for her administration, with two nominations for department directors introduced at the meeting. George nominated Claudia Dillinger for human resources director, and Peter Rancatore for finance director.

Both nominees participated in the remote council meeting, and Council President Dan O’Malley spoke favorably of each, saying to Dillinger that “You’re coming on at a strange time and we’re thrilled to hear of your appointment.” Council referred both nominations to the April 13 Committee of the Whole Meeting, and confirmation is likely.

Committees are preparing to resume their work on a remote basis after weeks of cancelled city meetings. In addition to Committee of the Whole, council member John Litten said that the Health & Human Services Committee which he chairs will likely meet at least once per month. Law Director Brian Corrigan said that boards and commissions should commence virtual meetings in May.

Lakewood resident Matt Kuhns is a freelance graphic designer, and occasional author.

Matt Kuhns

Matt Kuhns is a freelance graphic designer, and occasional author.

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Volume 16, Issue 8, Posted 3:45 PM, 04.15.2020