After going more than two months without an in-person meeting, the Smyrna City Council again met face-to-face Monday night, though in dramatically altered circumstances and with firm protocols in place designed to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus.
Rather than city hall, the council members were onstage inside a gym at the Smyrna Community Center. There was a six-foot gap between them, and all wore masks save for when they were speaking.
It was a similar story for those in the audience. Anyone entering got their temperature taken and had to sign in, then sit in chairs on the floor which were similarly distanced. Masks were required for entrance and the speaking podium was sanitized between each use.
However, the extensive protocols means council members and attendees were able to see each other in person for the first time since March 16, when Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton read a statement about COVID-19 in a nearly empty city hall. Meetings during the two months in between were either held online or canceled outright.
The meeting room will stay set up for the foreseeable future for future council meetings and for the city’s planning and zoning board, though Norton added that no rezonings will take place until at least June 12.
Along with the rest of the country, Smyrna is slowly starting to reopen. Restrooms at sports fields and at Taylor-Brawner Park opened Monday and will be frequently cleaned by city staff. Tennis courts and bathrooms at Tolleson Park and Rose Garden Park will open Wednesday, as will the Lake Court and Burger Park dog parks and their accompanying restrooms.
Smyrna’s library is now allowing book returns and curbside pickup for new titles, and city staff are beginning to return to work in staggered shifts.
During Monday night’s meeting, the council heard a presentation on the process of setting up next year’s budget, which is a much different process with the virus affecting so much of the economy.
The presentation suggested only a modest impact to next year’s budget, with about $500,000 of an estimated $18 million in reserves used to fill any gaps. But the presenting staff members and finance committee chair Corky Welch emphasized that the budget will be handled very conservatively as the full economic impact of the virus is still to be determined.
Haisten Willis is a freelance writer who lives in Smyrna with his wife, daughter and dog. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from California State University, Fresno, serves on the board of SPJ Georgia and even rides a bike when time allows.