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A busy session… City Council wades through lengthy August agenda

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com    
Even though audio difficulties via zoom often forced repetition of questions or responses, the Elizabethton City Council managed to maneuver its way through the regular-scheduled August meeting while addressing several items of business that filled the agenda.
The board opened by confirming two resolutions – one to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution allowing women to vote and the second to recognize the homeless problems within Carter County and the local region as well as the creation of a Homelessness Task Force.
Councilman Michael Simerly agreed to continue his work with the task force.
Before getting to the old business portion of the agenda, council took time to address a request for a special event downtown on Sunday – the Fat Tire Criterium which would be moving from Johnson City to the downtown streets of Elizabethton for their short-circuit bike race.
Most of the discussion was around the expenditures to be incurred by the city mainly surrounding the manpower requested of the Elizabethton Police Department which was asked for nine officers which would require 10 hours of staffing the intersections during the race.
Councilman Richard Barker asked if the expenses would be reimbursed to the city by the event organizers to which Mayor Curt Alexander responded that the city just couldn’t single out this event when other events are allowed downtown as well.
During the discussion, Councilman Wes Frazier mentioned the number of people that would be visiting the downtown area and that it would be good for the businesses that planned on being opened like the restaurants in relating a story about a couple who had come to one of the events from out of state and eventually moved to Carter County as a result of their visit.
Councilman Jeff Treadway suggested that the topic of charges for events be added to the Council’s retreat to see if charging for events would help offset costs such as police staffing.
The board voted unanimously to approve the event as Alexander shared, “its a very exciting and neat event. All participants have to sign a waiver and there will be 8 to 10 races throughout the day so it won’t be one large group at one time.”
City Manager Daniel Estes also noted another small street closure coming up on August 30th from 12:30 to 6 pm for South Lynn Avenue between Elizabethton First Baptist Church and their parking lot behind Felty-Roland Florist to offer communion as power will have to be run from the church to allow for the transmission of audio into the participant’s vehicle.
William ‘Bill’ Greene Jr. was reappointed to the Airport Commission while Dale Shook was also reappointed to the Housing Authority Board.
In regard to the one item of old business, the Council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance on second reading to prohibit camping on public property.
The ordinance will give police the ability to have written law when the time comes that they must address homeless people setting up campsites on public property and need to ask them to leave.
In new business, there were 14 items on the agenda but the one that drew the most discussion and time centered around the process on how to manage facilities, programs, and special events in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a recent discussion between Estes and Councilman Barker, Estes was asking the council to discuss how that going forward to address requests from the community and what process to use in determining whether to allow the event(s) or not and if a process is set in place how to address those that are not following the process.
One recent event where travel teams were playing baseball at local fields had two different opinions shared during the conversation.
Councilman Frazier shared that he had some concerns about the baseball tournament as well as the Covered Bridge Jams but after passing by those events his concerns were eased.
“I have been really impressed with what’s going on the Jam as we had people – some sitting on this side of the river and some on the other side but I haven’t seen no big groups gathering during that time and I think that’s amazing. You will see people with masks on.
“Last Sunday me and my wife got out and rode to Lion’s Field and down here behind the jail where I guess there were traveling ball teams which was a concern but after I went over there it changed my mind,” Frazier continued.
“They weren’t anybody sitting in the bleachers. You had mom and dads sitting in the outfield near the fence with a tent over them. You didn’t have big groups gathering there. To me, I just think that’s great because a lot of parents and people are doing what they should do, that made me feel good.”
After Frazier shared his experience, Councilman Barker shared another experience that also came from checking out ball games that were being played at T.A. Dugger Junior High.
“I want to share an opposite point of view of this,” Barker began. “I was over at T.A. Dugger two of the last three Saturday’s and that was not the case at T.A. Dugger.
“There were a lot of people under tents with very few people wearing masks and very few people practicing social distancing and I just felt that it was inviting problems for this town. I feel the same thing about the car show. They are not practicing social distancing, very few people are wearing masks.
“It seems like in Elizabethton and Carter County we were doing okay around the first or middle of June,” Barker continued. “We were having three or four cases of COVID and then yesterday we were up to 417 active cases of COVID.
“I am concerned that these travel teams are coming in from other areas across the region as far away as Knoxville and Asheville and other places and I am concerned that we are inviting a problem by continuing to have these here.
“I have spoken to other people in Johnson City administration, Kingsport, Bristol, and Greeneville and these areas have told them that they weren’t going to have these tournaments as long as they are having coronavirus problems. I am seeing it from a different perspective.
“Maybe I am to close to following the science but I am afraid that we are inviting problems when we have other people come from other areas of the region and are not practicing social distancing and not wearing masks and that is my opinion on this.”
City Councilman Jeff Treadway contributed that there are many opinions on COVID-19 but seemed to lend a possible solution on how to approach the process.
“We have guidelines that have been provided by the governor and the state on a multitude of events and businesses and what we should adopt are those as a basis for how we handle these events that are allowed by the state guidelines,” said Councilman Treadway.
“We need to have organizers of these events sign off that they understand what the requirements in regard to COVID are and we may even give them a copy of what the guidelines are.”
“We give them an opportunity if they aren’t complying with the guidelines one time and if it continues then we pull their permit.”
Treadway added that the process should be in place whether its an event that is sponsored by the city or an outside promoter.
After a 30 minute discussion, the board agreed that the process laid out in the Tennessee Promise would be the process for Estes to use when considering current and future events.
Other items approved were the purchase of property at 218 Spring Street in Hampton, the purchase of 19 utility easements for the TDOT SR-91 road improvement project, approval of an elevator services contract with United Elevators, and an HVAC Preventive Maintenance Contract with Nor-Well, Inc.