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City approves new rules for emergencies amid coronavirus outbreak
City Hall

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As the state deals with the COVID-19 outbreak, the city of Cumming is taking steps to limit contact with the public while still conducting city business.

At a regular meeting on Tuesday, the Cumming City Council approved a new emergency conditions ordinance that gives the city the ability to live stream public meetings and sets procedures for closing city buildings during emergencies. 

“We’ve been talking about the coronavirus, and that is what has prompted this ordinance,” said City Attorney Kevin Tallant. “The Georgia Open Meetings Act gives you the power to conduct meetings via teleconference, so long as the public is provided simultaneous access to the meeting.”

Tallant said the change also meant that if any member of the city council were to self-quarantine, they could also connect into the meeting remotely and establishes procedures for limiting access to city properties during an emergency. 

“This allows you guys to keep having meetings and approving contracts and keep the people’s business moving forward while we deal with whatever we’re dealing with… on a public basis,” Tallant told council members.

The ordinance will require a declaration from the mayor and can be used for other emergencies, such as a tornado, according to Tallant. To shut down city buildings for “a temporary time period,” the mayor must say how long that is going to be during the declaration.

Under state rules, the city would be required to post that meetings were happening by video on the city’s website and social media, post a notice on the door of City Hall and in the legal section of the Forsyth County News.

What the meetings would actually look like would depend on the circumstances.

“If the six of you were well, you could all be here together, and we could stream it on Facebook, stream it on YouTube. If we didn’t have the ability to do that, for example, we could set up… conference calls-in to listen to what’s going on,” Tallant said. “Let’s say that if you’re self-quarantined at a period where we're doing teleconference meetings, we might have you available for everyone else to see on FaceTime or Skype while we’re setting up to broadcast the meeting itself over Facebook Live or YouTube.”

Tallant said holding public hearings would be a challenge under those conditions.

After the council approved the change, Mayor Troy Brumbalow said the city would be closing down access to all city buildings through the end of March, though city agencies would remain open.

“We’re just trying to do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Brumbalow said.

Prior to the meeting, the city had announced closures for the Sawnee Association of the Arts art center at the Brannon-Heard House, Cumming Municipal Court and had suspended or canceled all programs and events at the recreation and parks department, the Cumming Aquatic Center and the Cumming Fairgrounds. 

Brumbalow said that city buildings that were rented to businesses, such as the Cumming Cigar Company at the historic Sinclair gas station, would not be closed and that decision would be left to the business owner.

One of those businesses came up earlier in the meeting in an item also related to the coronavirus outbreak, as the council voted unanimously to suspend rent for March for Tam’s School Street Playhouse, which had to cancel its productions for this month.

“It’s something that’s going to hit all of America. It’s not just here, it’s everywhere across America,” Brumbalow said. “I’m a small business owner, and my clientele is shrinking by the day, and it’s something that everybody sees.” 

Brian Tam, who operates the playhouse with his wife, Kelly, said the playhouse was still currently planning to hold shows next month.

“So far, right now they are in rehearsals and moving forward,” Tam said. “It’s a much smaller cast of about 12 people, whereas this cast was 38.”