BY DEBBIE PAGE
During a special meeting of the Troutman Town Council on Monday night, Interim Town Manager Jim Freeman said the town and its staff are dealing with a “whole new ballgame” while operating under Gov. Roy Cooper’s “Stay-at-Home Order,” which went into effect as the council began its meeting.
“The situation is fluid and constantly changing. It’s unprecedented,” said Freeman, who participated in a series of meetings and conference calls with other town and city managers and state officials on Monday to discuss how municipalities can best comply with Cooper’s order.
“I’m worried about our people, especially those essential employees who are out there on the front lines,” added Freeman. Essential staff include the police and public works staff.
After a staff meeting planned on Tuesday morning to discuss essential and non-essential functions, Freeman expected staffing levels at Town Hall to be lowered, with more employees working from home to comply with the governor’s order.
That reduced staffing level means paying bills in person and other face-to-face staff interactions will be limited or stopped for a period of time. Public works staff will do only essential functions and repairs, and services such as new water hookups may cease because Freeman does want to unnecessarily place staff in a position of potential virus exposure.
The council will discuss how to approach next week’s scheduled meetings as well. Freeman strongly suggested the council cut down on the number of meetings it holds and condense the agenda to only those items that must be addressed for town operation.
Mayor Teross Young said “the last few weeks have been challenging.” Town officials are “thinking outside of the box to do things differently” in this crisis, he added.
Young expressed his appreciation to the staff “who continue to do their jobs effectively as a critical part of our community.”
“I hope everyone remains safe and healthy through this time,” the mayor added.
REMOTE MEETING POLICY
The three council members present in the council chamber approved a remote participation policy for its meetings after a lengthy discussion by the three members present and the other two members, Paul Bryant and Eddie Nau, who participated in the meeting via speakerphone.
After several changes to the proposed policy, constructed by Town Attorney Gary Thomas, councilmembers George Harris, Paul Henkel and Sally Williams voted to approve the new policy, which allows members to attend two regular meetings and two others meetings (special, pre-agenda, etc.) remotely per calendar year.
The council member must make a remote participation request to the mayor at least 24 hours before the meeting. Acceptable reasons are illness, employment purposes, family emergency, out-of-country travel, a town-related meeting that conflicts with a council meeting, or during a state, county, or town state of emergency.
The mayor and mayor pro tem cannot both participate remotely; one must be present to preside at the meeting.
Remote participation is also only allowed when a quorum is physically present at the meeting. The remote council member may not participate in quasi-judicial hearings, closed sessions, or public hearings and votes on zoning issues.
The mayor will announce to attendees if a member is attending remotely, and the member must state the reason why he or she is not present. Clear audio and preferably video presence through various technology means is required for participation and voting. No text, electronic message or chat participation is allowed.
Thomas added that N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein recently published an opinion explaining that remote governmental meetings were acceptable during a state of emergency and that the council could add a section addressing that.
Mayor Young agreed, noting that “the Attorney General’s opinion said that remote participation is not exclusively prohibited by statute and that local government can carry out necessary electronic participation and remain compliant with open meeting laws. To me, that clearly says we can do it.”
Thomas then added an ordinance section stating: “This policy shall not apply and remote participation may occur if a state of emergency has been declared by the United States, the State of North Carolina, Iredell County, or Town of Troutman that directly affects Troutman.”
After the state of emergency is lifted, the town would then revert to the normal remote participation policy.
This addition would allow all members to participate remotely only during a state of emergency.
MEETINGS DURING STATE OF EMERGENCY
With Bryant and Nau now participating, the council unanimously passed an ordinance that allows the mayor to close any meetings of the Town Council to the public during a state of emergency under the authority of state statute N.C.G.S. 166A-19.31.
Instead meetings would be live-streamed on the town’s website and/or social media. Notice of the broadcast will be given to the public prior to the meeting.
This measure will protect public health and safety as well as comply with Cooper’s current order to limit public gatherings to 10 or less.
Public comments, limited to 350 words, must be emailed or mailed to the Town Clerk by 5 p.m. of the day of the meeting. The comments will be read by the town clerk or designee to the council during the meeting.
HONORING SIHS SENIORS
In an item added to the agenda, Williams asked council members to consider ideas to honor South Iredell High School seniors who may miss traditional prom and graduation festivities because of the COVID-19 virus shutdown of schools and communities.
Williams said Parks and Recreation Director Emily Watson received a number of calls from parents asking if the town could help them recognize the students in some way. Ideas included placing signs on the greenway or a video production featuring all seniors much like Mooresville High School recently shared.
Though all members liked the idea of honoring seniors, the council had concerns about signs being of a consistent size and their content. Thomas said that the town would have to limit sign placement to only the town-owned greenway section from Old Murdock Road to Rumple Street. The town only has transportation right-of-way in other greenway areas that adjoin private property.
The feasibility of placing 300 signs and possible damage to the prized greenway were also expressed.
Williams noted that SIHS and Principal Tim Ivey may already have ideas and plans underway of which they were unaware.
Council members asked Williams to take the parents’ request to the Parks and Recreation Committee for brainstorming and ideas and report back to the council in April.
Council also took action on two planning-related issues that were delayed due to insufficient public notice at its regular March meeting:
♦ Repeal of Truck Maintenance and Parking Ordinance
The council voted 4-1 (with Harris dissenting) to repeal a text amendment allowing truck parking and maintenance facilities from the town’s Unified Development Ordinance.
The council passed the text amendment in November after a request from Gaines Express, which hoped to set up a truck parking and maintenance operation on a piece of property near the fairgrounds.
Council members afterwards discovered the property in question was much closer to the fairgrounds than they had been led to believe and was actually adjacent to Iredell County EMS station on Murdock Road where fairground event attendees currently park.
Several county commissioners lamented losing this piece of property for potential fairground expansion and improvements, a project in which the council pledged to assist through a June resolution presented to commissioners.
♦ Annexation and Rezoning for Redwood Living Project
The council voted unanimously to annex and rezone an ETJ parcel near the Oswalt Amity Road and Highway 21 intersectionin, taking the first step of a process to bring 95 luxury apartments to the town.
The proposed Redwood Living project is planned on four adjoining parcels, three of which were already in Troutman’s Highway Business zoning district, totaling just over 21 acres.
The apartments will feature an open plan with two bedrooms and bathrooms and an attached two-car garage as well as a patio.
The apartments are joined together in groups of 4 to 8, with 5 to 6 being average. The units will rent for $1,500 to $2,000 per month and range in size from about 1,300 to 1,600 square feet.
The proposed project will feature 7.5 acres of open space and a greenway.
Redwood representative Bob Dyer, who spoke to council by speakerphone, said the Ohio-based Redwood company (https://www.byredwood.com), has operated since 1991 and manages 12,000 dwelling units in eight states.
The company is already building communities in Concord and Lake Wylie. The company has also acquired property for others in the Charlotte, Monroe, Kannapolis, and Greenville-Spartanburg areas.