Spread a chair apart on the dais and with its audience watching online, Crystal River City Council members kept government moving Monday amid a pandemic of coronavirus.
“We are in unprecedented times right now,” Mayor Joe Meek said after opening council's meeting.
Up to around 90 viewers got a glimpse of council’s meeting via Facebook Live, setup by city staff as a precaution to curb COVID-19’s spread.
“We’re just trying to keep our social distance,” City Manager Ken Frink said. “It took a lot of effort.”
Meek placed the city under a state of emergency March 16, coordinating with similar actions taken by Citrus County commissioners and city of Inverness officials.
Since then, Crystal River has halted events, shuttered city parks, enhanced cleaning measures and on Monday put a pause to for-profit, water-based tourism businesses.
More health and safety measures are expected, Frink told council.
Frink said city hall will keep doing business with residents, but some services will be modified to limit in-person contact with city staff, like having customers call ahead before making appointments and allowing them to deposit more paperwork in city hall’s drop box.
Credit card fees for online payments would also be waived to encourage Internet use, and the city won't disconnect utilities for late payment, Frink and Meek said.
“We could have never ever expected this,” he said. “Staff is scared…and we’re doing what we can to make their lives easier…We’re finding new ways of doing business…it’s getting to the point where we need to take this to the next level.
“Bear with the city as we get through this.”
Council votes for change of city attorney
Council voted 5-0 to put the Hogan Law Firm out of Brooksville on a 60-day termination notice for legal services.
Following their vote, council members voted to have Robert W. Batsel of Gilligan, Gooding, Batsel & Anderson, P.A. from Ocala represent the city, effective immediately.
Hogan Law and current city attorney Carrie Felice will continue to oversee Crystal River’s legal services during the 60 days as they make the transition with Batsel, Frink said.
“It’s time for a new direction,” Frink said after thanking Felice for her dedicated partnership with the city.
Council thanked Hogan Law for its work in helping the city obtain shared property rights with private lot owners to build its Riverwalk.
Councilwoman Cindi Guy noted Batsel also represents the interests of Inverness and the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office.
“All the communities working together with the same attorney will also be an asset,” she said.
Council restructures planning, building department
Council issued a 30-day notice of termination to PDCS, LLC for building inspection services, allowing the city to staff a new full-time building official.
Frink said the move would save the city over $50,000 a year and afford more time for people seeking building permits.
“Our customer service will be light years ahead of what it is now,” Frink said.
Council also allowed Frink to contract with Calvin, Giordano & Associates for code enforcement services. This resulted in a reduction of a city staff member.
Council OKs key agreement to progress city Riverwalk
Council voted to authorize Meek to sign off on Crystal River sharing riparian rights with Pete’s Pier Dockside, Inc., allowing the city to build its public Riverwalk boardwalk along the shorelines of the private Dockside Shoppes parcel.
Crystal River expects to break ground on the second and final phase of its Riverwalk in April 2021 at a cost of between $2.8 and $3.2 million.