March 21, 2020

Mallory Herrmann

The Lee’s Summit City Council is trying to prepare for the future, whatever that may hold.

At their regular session this week, the nine members sat staggered in two tiers to create some additional distance between them – instead of their typical single row on the dais. Mayor Bill Baird signed the city into a state of emergency and confirmed that the city had been operating at a level one emergency operations plan since March 12 in response to the coronavirus global pandemic.

The state of emergency designation allows the city’s emergency management coordinator to authorize emergency responsive activities not limited to police and fire and offers the ability to purchase or lease goods and services deemed necessary by the city.

“The request to declare a state of emergency is never taken lightly. But given the current circumstances, we believe it’s our best course of action to ensure the safety of our citizens,” said Michael Snider, fire chief.

Baird admitted that it could be easy to look back and question how things were handled in response to the virus, which had been in the news since December 2019, and to imagine how things might have been different. But he encouraged the community to focus on moving forward during this crisis.

“Time is not on our side,” Baird said.

While encouraging city staff and residents to practice social distancing (including refraining from hugging, shaking hands and congregating in groups) he asked that the community come together in spirit.

“Never is there a time we must be more mindful than now, by thinking of others and how our behaviors affect our community as a whole.”

Councilmember Rob Binney also asked citizens to continue supporting Lee’s Summit businesses, both big and small, to keep them going during what has already been a very difficult time. In following CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), state and county health guidelines, dine-in restaurants, bars, theaters and other gathering spaces have been required to close for an indefinite period.

Preparing for state legislation that would provide provisions for limiting public access to meetings like the council’s regular sessions, the council also voted on an emergency ordinance that would adjust processes and procedures related to emergency situations.

The ordinance creates two new sections of the city’s municipal code related to continuity of government during emergency situations: If both the mayor and mayor pro tem are unable to serve, the powers and duties of the mayor are conferred on the councilmember with the longest continuous tenure. If there is a tie, the determination is made by drawing lots. The second section allows the council to conduct virtual meetings as long as a quorum is physically present in the council chamber, such as if a councilmember is quarantined, with a possibility of restricting public access to the sessions.

Councilmembers Binney and Bob Johnson voiced concerns about such a limitation, at either the state or city level, that would prevent citizens from commenting on the council’s agenda in real time. Public input could still be entered into the record through written comments.

Brian Head, city attorney, emphasized that these measures would only be used as needed in emergency situations such as the current public health crisis.

“If my experience has taught me one thing, we have to prepare for the worst and plan for the best,” Head said. “And that’s honestly what this whole bill is about.”

Noting that with the unprecedented and rapidly evolving situation that COVID-19 has created, it is very hard to predict what potential issues the council will face in holding meetings over the next several weeks and months.

Still, Johnson preferred an earlier version of the ordinance, which included no provision for potential public access restriction. Johnson and Binney both voted against moving to a second reading of the emergency ordinance. Only Binney voted against the ordinance’s second reading.

All councilmembers were present at the Mar. 17 meeting.