This Oklahoma City Hall is partially reopening today
A trip to City Hall in McAlester, Oklahoma, will be a much different experience than it was before the COVID-19 shutdown
McAlester News-Capital, Okla.
By James Beaty Managing Editor
MCALESTER, Okla. — McAlester City Hall is set for a limited public reopening beginning Tuesday, May 26 — but that doesn't mean the front doors will remain unlocked throughout the day.
What can members of the public expect next week if they approach the main entrance to City Hall?
"They can expect to find a sign that says you can access City Hall by appointment only," said McAlester City Manager Pete Stasiak. Doors to City Hall will remain locked, he said.
Those needing to make an appointment can do so by phoning City Hall's main number at 918-423-9300, then following the prompts to reach a particular city office.
Plans called City Hall to be closed Friday, May 22, for an unpaid furlough day for all non-uniformed city employees, followed by the paid Memorial Day holiday on Monday, May 25, leading up to the partial reopening on Tuesday, May 26.
No plans are in place as to when City Hall might fully reopen to the public.
All next week we will evaluate how it works with making an appointment," Stasiak said. The city continues to take guidance from the state, he said.
"We're really watching what the governor and the state is doing," said Stasiak.
Employees at City Hall are following guidelines in a effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, including wearing personal protection equipment in the form of masks or other facial coverings when meeting with other city workers.
"If we meet, we meet with our masks on," Stasiak said. "I can sit in my office with my mask off," but if a city employee comes in to meet with him, they both wear their masks, he said. Stasiak said if he goes into other city employees' offices, he wears his mask and they wear theirs.
The city manager has no plans at this time to require members of the public who make an appointment to enter City Hall to wear a face mask or other protective facial coverings when they enter the building.
"You can ask them to wear a mask, but we're not going to require it," Stasiak said. He said there are no plans for the city to acquire face masks or other protective facial gear to provide to anyone entering City Hall, which is what the county is providing to those entering Pittsburg County Courthouse.
City employees are still expected to wear their protective facial coverings if they meet with the public in their office.
"We cannot require the public to do that, but we can certainly protect our employees," the city manager said.
Plans call for hand sanitizer to be interspersed throughout City Hall.
"We have bottles of hand sanitizer," Stasiak said. "We don't have enough masks to give to the public."
Mayor John Browne is hoping those who visit City Hall will wear a mask or other protective face covering. "I definitely encourage people to wear masks," he said.
The best argument for it is if you wear wear a mask and it's not necessary, there's no damage done," Browne said. "If you don't wear a mask and cause somebody to get sick, there is damage done.
"I say that knowing that masks are not 100 percent effective," said Browne. "They're not a wall; they're a fence — but some protection is better than no protection."
For now, members of the public will not be allowed inside City Hall to do things such as pay their water bills through the city's utility department. Stasiak noted that the city has two kiosks in town where payments can be made. They can also phone City Hall and pay by credit card or use one of the drop boxes at the front of City Hall, he said.
Stasiak noted the city now has fewer employees than it did before the shutdown went into effect because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city was already facing financial challenges due to a budget shortfall, and the pandemic has exacerbated what the city manager had already projected to be a tough situation. With some employees furloughed, the city likely won't be able to deliver service the same way it has in the past, he said.
He mentioned the Codes Department as an example.
"If you have a Codes violation, we have gone from five people to two," Stasiak said. In the past, the city had the capability of setting up an appointment almost immediately.
He said it will now take longer with the reduced staff.
(c)2020 the McAlester News-Capital (McAlester, Okla.)