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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Peshtigo Council to Meet Aug. 4 At Drees Center

Issue Date: July 29, 2020

The Peshtigo City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 4 will be held at the Drees Community Center rather than in the Council Chambers at the Municipal Building. That decision was made at a meeting of the Personnel Committee on Monday, July 27 after a long discussion on how to re-open while keeping city personnel safe from COVID-19.

Alderman Mike Behnke, who chairs the Personnel Committee, has been handling the duties of mayor during the hospitalization of Mayor Cathi Malke, who is undergoing treatment for COVID-19.

The Municipal Building has been closed to the public since Monday, July 20, but was re-opened on a limited basis as of Wednesday, July 29 to allow the Peshtigo Public Library there to be open from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and to allow in-person absentee voting at the clerk's office during regular business hours from Monday, Aug. 3 through Friday, Aug. 10.

The regular monthly City Council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 4 at the Drees Community Center. It will start with public hearings on three ordinance amendments - one designating ATV/UTV routes through the city and regulating the recreational vehicles, another authorizing the City Clerk or Deputy Clerk to issue Operator's licenses with Police Chief approval, and another addressing daycares in each zoning district. Counsel approval of the amendments is expected later in the meeting.There will be reports from committees and department heads.

At a closed session at the end of its May 27 meeting the Personnel Committee interviewed candidates to be hired for a full time Public Works Department position, and at its meeting on Tuesday, Council is being asked to approve the candidate chosen with alternates selected, a 6-month probationary period and wage contingent on passing testing and background check.

Other agenda items for the Council includes committee and department head reports. There is a possibility items could be added to the agenda, since it was not finalized at press time.

Present for the July 27 Personnel Committee meeting in addition to Behnke were Aldermen Rick Berth and Debbie Sievert, Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal, Public Works Director George Cowell, Police Chief Rick Badgley, former Alderman Mary Lock, and Shawn Northrop, who was working his last day as Parks and Recreation Director for the city.

Northrop's resignation as head of the Parks and Recreation Department became effective on Tuesday, July 28, but at the meeting he agreed to continue working for the city as a working Parks Department foreman at least until October 1.

In response to questions from committee members, Lock said the Bands at Badger program sponsored by Peshtigo Woman's Club is continuing in the Badger Park pavilion, but concessions are not being sold. There is to be a performance from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

Lead item on the Personnel Committee meeting agenda was "Consider safety of the City of Peshtigo and/or City facilities due to COVID-19."

Behnke said he had placed that item on the agenda because of the recent surge of cases in the area, and specifically in the City of Peshtigo. Behnke said he understands that immunity doesn't stay even with people who have had COVID-19, and recently was told that contagion can last more than 21 days.

Behnke said in making decisions on what can be done to safeguard people he has been seeking advice from the City Health Officer Mollie Bonjean, who is also Marinette County Health Officer with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Berth asked if events are being held at Drees Community Center and was told it is rented out for events, including a long-postponed benefit on Saturday, Aug. 1, and added, "If people chose to attend, it's their choice...they know what they're getting into."

Th Drees Center is also used to prepare meals for the elderly, which are currently delivered to homes, with no one coming to eat at the Community Center. Behnke said the director there is concerned about how well cleaned the facility will be on Monday when she comes in to prepare the meals when there have been events over the weekend.

Sievert mentioned that the Catholic school and church have a commercial cleaning service that comes in with a mister to sanitize the buildings. A member of the audience noted that Marinette County Jail recently purchased a portable ultraviolet "Skytron" sanitizing machine that sanitizes an enclosed area in about 45 minutes. Cowell suggested they find out what such a machine would cost and add it to the price for renting the Drees Center. Behnke agreed he would be interested in buying one, or hiring someone to do the cleaning, and asked Sievert to look into it.

Behnke noted the city's front line employees are working at the Municipal Building and are being protected. Badgley said his officers wear masks when having face to face contact with others while they are out and about.

"We all have loved ones at home that we want to keep safe," Behnke commented.

Kasal said the city has a cleaning crew that comes to the Municipal Building every night to clean and pays special attention to sanitizing doors and other surfaces that people touch regularly. She added that the librarians are wondering when the city will lift the ban on people entering the building, because they want to re-open.

"With the number of people getting it around here, it will be hard to make that decision," Behnke commented.

Kasal pointed out the building will need to be at least somewhat open because she has elections coming up. From Monday, Aug. 3 through Friday, Aug. 7 she will have in-person absentee voting, and the following Tuesday - Aug. 11 - is the election.

Librarian Jessica Foote was invited into the meeting. She said currently Peshtigo is the only library in the county that is not open on at least a part-time basis. Behnke suggested people could be allowed to come into the building, but not go into city offices. Sievert suggested people could enter and exit through the French Street entry rather than the parking lot side. A problem is that the only handicapped entry is on the Parking lot side. That will be looked into. Meanwhile, Berth suggested keeping the parking lot side doors locked and putting signs up about the French Street entry.

Foote agreed they could put signs out, but added, "people don't like reading signs."

She said they are not requiring people to wear masks in the library, but it is recommended. Only four patrons will be allowed in the library at one time, and people who come in will be following distancing and other rules. The library had been open from June 22 until the building was closed on July 20, and Foote said they had no problem with limiting admission to four patrons at a time. To questions from Behnke she said they quarantine books and other materials that are returned for several days, and wipe down materials that have been handled before returning them to shelves.

It was agreed the library could re-open on Wednesday, July 29, and be open thereafter from 2 to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Cowell said he does not feel comfortable attending Council meetings in the Municipal Building Council Chambers and suggested, especially with the public hearings coming up, that the next meeting be held in the large room of the Drees Community Center. Kasal said they had talked about that a bit previously.

Behnke asked Badgley how he feels about people coming up to his department window. Badgley felt that would be okay, "but if we open this building, I'd still like to say no entry without a mask."

Kasal wasn't sure they could do that for an election, but said she would look into it. She will have hand sanitizer and masks available for voters.

As to moving the Council meeting, Behnke agreed the Drees Center has a larger room where social distancing will be easier, and this would be good particularly because of the public hearings on three ordinances. He added the room has good acoustics. Lock said Music in the Park events are going on, but she did not think they would sell concessions at the July 29 event because some people do not follow the rules. Attendance has been about equal to last year. Some groups keep separate and some do not

Behnke said when he was there late in the evening about half the people were wearing masks. Behnke said it is a good event and he would not like to stop it.

"It's free and it's good entertainment, and people are tired of being boxed in," Lock commented. She said they do not necessarily recommend wearing masks, as people who want to will wear them anyway.

Behnke asked the committee if they were comfortable with him making an executive decision or if they wanted to vote, and Sievert and Beth both said they were comfortable.

Next came discussion on vacations, and how much time can be rolled over. Behnke said currently up to one week can be rolled over, if approved by Council. Difficulties posed when illness leave departments shorthanded were discussed. Badgley said as to comp time, he regularly gets called in at night. Cowell said he too gets called in at night sometimes, but not often. He suggested they might need a different rule for law enforcement. There was no action on that issue.

There was discussion on updating job descriptions, which Berth said has not been done for quite a while. Behnke felt with need to advertise now for a new Parks and Recreation Director, this would be a good time for an updating. He said lots of duties have changed and been added over the years. Cowell noted in Public Works, some positions require a CDL and some do not. On this issue also there was no action.

Moving on to discuss the Parks and Recreation Director vacancy, Behnke said this was to have been Northrop's last day, but a few things have changed.

Northrop said he has to be in Florida on Oct. 1, but could work part-time until then through August and September. Behnke favored keeping him on part time - the maximum of 29 hours a week - as a working parks foreman. Northrop agreed, and said that would also give him time to finish some projects he has started.

Sievert asked him to prepare a list of Parks and Recreation Director duties, and parks projects to be passed along to his successor.

The only big event coming up is the city-wide Throwback to the 70s event on Saturday, Aug. 29. That event was held last year, but was specific to the campground. All of the planning is done, Northrop said.

Motion to hire Northrop to work 29 hours a week at $18 per hour with no benefits starting Tuesday, July 28 was unanimously approved.

Berth asked if they were looking to fill the Parks and Recreation Director position, and Behnke said they would, but he favored waiting to find out what the future will look like for activities, in view of the coronavirus issue. He suggested waiting, but said they would need to decide before budget time, "to be sure we're spending our money the right way."

Behnke noted in the past they had problems finding applicants who are skilled and trained in running both parks facilities and recreation programs. Lock suggested having Northrop list his job duties before they decide on advertising, and added that he gets assigned a lot of jobs that aren't really part of his duties. She said many duties have been taken from one department and given to another without a committee recommendation.

Northrop agreed, and advised that before putting out ads "There has to be a conversation...the Parks and Recreation Department is not going to be the same as it has been in the past."

He said the coronavirus had saved him from having to do some of the many jobs with which he was tasked, and added, "There is really no staff, and for one person to do all these things alone is almost impossible." He added, "That's not why I'm leaving, but for one person to do all these things is almost impossible!"

He mentioned preparing the baseball fields for games, with setting up bases and painting base lines as a time consuming duty that should be done by someone else. Berth said the teams can get parents to do things, such as run the concession stand, but it's always the same half a dozen, "and they get tired of it."

Kasal and Sievert asked Northrop to list duties, what he has done, what he has been asked to do, and what he thinks the duties should be. Behnke and Berth agreed that needs to be done.

There was talk of assigning some mowing tasks to Public Works employees, but Cowell said his department is already short handed and behind on its work. He said everything takes longer with masks and one person per vehicle, and questioned paying Public Works employees $15 per hour to mow, while part-time parks people do that job for $12 to $12.50 per hour. He also noted much of his budget is provided through state aid for roads, and work must be done on them.

The committee authorized Cowell to advertise for someone to fill the vacant part-time fall and early winter Public Works position.

After concluding other business the committee went into closed executive session to consider candidates to fill a vacant full-time Public Works position.


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