Port Moody is closed.
Or, at least, city hall is.
Wednesday afternoon, Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov said he’s taking the drastic action in response to the provincial government’s declaration of a state of emergency earlier in the day.
Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth made that announcement to ensure federal, provincial and local resources to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic can be delivered in a co-ordinated manner. The state of emergency is in effect for 14 days, but it can be rescinded or extended.
In a press release, Vagramov said “we are shutting down normal operations at city hall.” Next Tuesday’s council meeting is also cancelled with further meetings likely to be held electronically.
Vagramov added the city’s “number one priority is now responding to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensuring delivery of core services — police, and fire, water and sewer, waste collection, and bylaw enforcement.”
Vagramov said city staff will endeavour to continue providing services by email and phone, but delays to non-essential business can be expected.
The move escalates decisions made in a closed session of council on Tuesday to keep city hall customer services operating by appointment, and staff encouraged to work from home if possible. While citizen committee meetings, like the community planning advisory committee, were cancelled, regular council sessions were to carry on with “mitigating strategies.” Those included moving councillors desks farther apart, limiting attendance in the Inlet Theatre, where the meeting are held, to 50, allowing staff in only to make their presentations and then leave.
At Tuesday evening’s meeting of council’s committee of the whole, even control of the zapper that advances slides on the screen councillors use to see presentations was restricted to one person, rather than to each presenter.
Earlier Wednesday, Vagramov told The Tri-City News that, along with increased sanitizing efforts and airflow, “council chambers is one of the safest work environments I have seen.”
But some councillors didn’t agree.
Coun. Meghan Lahti said she advised council that, "as a matter of personal safety and principle, I think that we should all be practising social distancing and self-isolation."
She did not attend Tuesday's meetings. Nor did Coun. Diana Dilworth.
Coun. Zoe Royer, who was at Tuesday's sessions, repeatedly pressed Vagramov to begin convening meetings electronically, using a system the city already has in place. She pointed to other communities like Edmonton, that are already conducting virtual council meetings.
“Many other councils, governments at all levels, boards, businesses and other groups across Canada and the world have made similar decisions,” she said.
Other motions passed in Tuesday’s closed session, and subsequently released, include:
- A shutdown of all recreation programs in the city, as well as civic facilities like the rec centre, arts centre and library. Pool openings are postponed indefinitely and facility rentals are cancelled.
- Child care and camps are being designated as support services for parents working is essential services like health care, and parents not in those fields are being urged to cancel their participation.
- Staff is being directed to implement a system for remote business transactions as well as investigate options for compensating auxiliary staff members impacted by closures and program cancellations.
- The creation of $100,000 fund to allow staff to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
Vagramov said he’s also been empowered, along with city manager Tim Savoie, to be able to make “executive decisions” between council meetings. He said that will provide “greater flexibility” to respond to quickly-evolving situations, adding “every effort is being taken to ensure transparency and openness during a measured response.”