The COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic has required individuals and organizations to adapt in several ways.

Those include the requirement for local governments to adhere to open-meeting laws while following the directives of Gov. Mike DeWine and state health officials to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease.

For the first time March 23, Hilliard City Council convened with no members present at the Hilliard Municipal Building.

Instead council members and multiple administrators met remotely from their own residences. The meeting was broadcast live on the city's Facebook page.

"Pulling this together was a team effort of the city's information-technology department and communications department," said David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard.

"We considered different ways to stream the meeting and allow public questions and comments, because the online-streaming system we typically use for public meetings only allows for video and sound," Ball said. "To interact, you have to come to the meeting."

While not ideal, Ball said, the March 23 meeting "was an interesting exercise in public engagement through social media and technology."

During the meeting, as each council member or administrator who had a camera spoke, they could be seen on screen. Occasionally, a member would forget to turn off the mute function, creating a lag in joining the conversation.

During the meeting, those who were viewing could type questions into the dialogue box for Ball to read and relay to council.

Michelle Crandall, who began her job as Hilliard's first city manager in January and has more than 20 years of experience in municipal government with the city of Dublin, said March 23 "was a slightly different experience."

"It's always easier to communicate in person rather than remotely, but we live in a time where technology can help us overcome this kind of obstacle," Crandall said. "In the end, I would have to say it was a success."

About 40 people tuned into the broadcast from among the city's 8,350 Facebook followers, Crandall said.

Council President Andy Teater said he thought the meeting "went very well."

"Generally, to me it seemed not much different than our normal meetings," Teater said.

Teater credited council clerk Lynne Fasone, the administration and other council members for efforts "that allowed us to have a meeting that practiced physical distancing."

The city's new form of city-manager government also helped, Teater said.

In November 2018, voters approved a city-charter amendment that changed the form of government from a strong mayor, effective Jan. 1.

"Council has been provided good, reliable and complete information from the administration about all items on the agenda prior to the meeting," Teater said. "This allows council to research and ask questions prior to the meeting, which helps the meeting to be efficient."

Still, "one thing that was missing was the face-to-face interaction with the public," he said.

Teater said he hopes the manner in which the meeting was streamed might lead to more residents becoming involved with watching local government.

Ball said the remote public engagement "is something we will give consideration to for the long run once the current crisis is resolved."

Meanwhile, council will continue to meet remotely.

"In our efforts to ensure essential government business can continue, we knew we needed to still be able to have City Council and other crucial meetings in a way that ensured public participation while also preventing the possible spread of COVID-19," Crandall said.

During their "virtual" meeting March 23, council members put the brakes on three ordinances because of budget concerns related to a struggling economy in the midst of the pandemic.

Council indefinitely tabled an ordinance that would have allowed the city to collect an additional $5 permissive tax for each vehicle registered with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles by Hilliard residents. The collection would have started in January.

Council also tabled, though not indefinitely, funding for the new position of a diversion-program coordinator and legislation that would make it unlawful for any person under 21 to purchase, use or possess electronic smoking devices.

Council member Cynthia Vermillion said she previously was "on board" with the permissive-tax legislation, but now she believes it could "impose a hardship" on residents.

Council member Kelly McGivern said she also "had concern about moving forward."

Council opted to table the legislation indefinitely after Crandall asked that it be approved then or at least by July 1, the deadline for it to be effective Jan. 1.

Council has two scheduled meetings in April, May and June before the July 1 deadline.

Ohio law permits a taxing district to enact up to six $5 levies, for a total of $30 per vehicle registration, per year, Ball said.

Presently, Hilliard collects five such levies, for a total of $25 per vehicle registration, per year, Ball said.

The new tax would generate $178,528 per year to be used toward road construction, repair and maintenance, according to the ordinance.

However, Lindsey Bohrer, assistant communications director for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, previously said Hilliard's additional permissive tax should generate about $158,000 per year.

In 2019, 37,399 vehicles of one kind or another were registered by owners living in the Hilliard taxing district, Bohrer said.

Using 2019 as a baseline when 37,399 vehicles were registered, and subtracting 228 commercial trucks, which are exempt, the remaining 37,171 vehicles, at $5 per vehicle, generates $185,855, according to Bohrer.

The Department of Public Safety applies a "reduction factor" of 85% to allow for partial-year registrations, for which the permissive tax is prorated.

After applying the reduction factor, the annual additional income is rounded up to $158,000, Bohrer said.

Ball said the city's estimate "is based on more data being considered about the number of cars and what we're likely to get."

Council tabled until May 11 the ordinance that would make it unlawful for any person under 21 to purchase, use or possess electronic smoking devices.

A related ordinance that would fund the position of a diversion-program coordinator to work with juveniles caught using electronic smoking devices also was tabled until May 11.

The diversion program is intended to divert nonviolent juveniles found in possession of electronic smoking devices into an educational program to teach the health risks of vaping, Hilliard prosecutor Dawn Steele said previously.

Council members cited future financial uncertainty in choosing not to go forward with legislation.

Crandall said she spoke with Hilliard City Schools Superintendent John Marschhausen, who told her he understood if the program were to be postponed, and she recommended council delay acting on the legislation.

However, if a diversion program was to go into effect by the start of the next school year, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 20, a program director would need to be hired by July 1, Crandall said.

"I'm generally supportive (of the program), but everything is fluid now," council member Omar Tarazi said.

Council did open the checkbook on another matter.

City Council members voted 7-0 to appropriate almost $800,000 for additional parking capacity and for improvements to the trailhead for the Heritage Rail Trail on Center Street.

The city received five bids -- all below the engineer's estimate of $917,750, with the lowest submitted by Columbus Asphalt Paving for $793,675, Ball said.

"It's below what we anticipated and budgeted, (and) we'd like to get started," Crandall said.

She said the project would be "a catalyst" in Old Hilliard.

"It's a good plan and a good quote," council member Tom Baker said. "We need to proceed.

Teater said the additional parking would be needed when bars and restaurants in the district reopen.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought sweeping action statewide in an effort to contain the spread of the disease, including the closure of bars and restaurants to dine-in patrons except for carryout and delivery services.

March 23 was a busy day for the city government, as Crandall also issued two more orders with her emergency powers as the city's acting emergency-management director.

One of the new orders was the closure of the Hilliard Municipal Building, 3800 Municipal Way, to the public.

The other was for all nonessential city employees to remain at home through Monday, April 6, a directive based on DeWine and Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton's stay-at-home order announced March 22.

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