City council meets remotely due to COVID-19
By Krishnan Collins
Delta Digital News Service
JONESBORO –The Jonesboro City Council met April 7 in remote fashion during a time of uncertainty due to COVID-19 and the city is still healing after a tornado swept through the center of Jonesboro March 28.
The meeting diverted from the original agenda right at the start as resolution 20:044 had to be approved for the meeting to officially be able to take place remotely. Since restrictions surrounding COVID-19 limits the number of people that can be in one place, the resolution was proposed and passed.
Among many stipulations in the resolution included that members on the council must conduct meetings in ways where the media can still view due to freedom of information laws, electronic means can be used for video call or chat that is recordable and audible to all parties watching and participating in the meeting, and the mayor, city clerk, city attorney and commission chair must be physically present at the meeting place where it is being held.
Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin started the meeting by complementing first responders, the community and city employees as wells as reminding citizens to follow social distancing and health guidelines.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Perrin said. “Our employees in all of our departments deserve your appreciation. They have worked tirelessly and hours with a remarkable attitude. Jonesboro residents have been strong and came to one other’s rescue. We are definitely a loving people in Jonesboro. The coronavirus and tornado have created a new landscape. Our duty is to adjust. I ask for patience as we adjust with each other. This is not a new future, it is simply a temporary fix. So please be kind and be patient. We are doing the work of the city and we cannot stand still. Life doesn’t work that way. But we are not weak. COVID and the other obstacles that are ahead of us, we must be smart, and we will definitely work together.”
Perrin stressed the importance of wearing a mask when out in public.
“This is no time to worry about appearances,” Perrin said. “You look better with a mask.”
One issue on the agenda caused significant debate on the night, Ordinance 20:011.
The ordinance, submitted by Ditta Enterprises, proposed the rezoning of an area at 400 E. Highland Dr. The Ditta family wants to build a hardware store in the area. The hardware store received public support, with only a single dissent.
Janet Gehring said during a past meeting that an ordinance had been passed in 2007 that stated no business could ever be built on that plot of land except for a bank. The plot of land is in a neighborhood surrounded by residents. Gehring said she would not want to live next to a hardware store and asked what was the point of making an ordinance if it was just going to be changed later.
“And, I think, I might ask you all, would you like to live by a hardware store and call that your neighbor?” Gehring asked. “Mr. Rogers probably would. Mr. Rogers probably would say won’t you be my neighbor, but I would say, please don’t be my neighbor. Please don’t be my neighbor.”
It was pointed out that the ordinance had been passed in 2007 to stop a 24/7 fast food restaurant or convenience store from opening at the time and was argued that such an establishment would cause disturbances to residents in the neighborhood being that it would be open at all times of the night as well as the day.
It was also argued at the time a convenience store on Highland Drive would mean children would have to cross a major road to go to the restaurant or store and therefore could easily be struck by traffic.
However, it was argued at the meeting that zoning ordinances are not meant to be frozen in time and can change with the times of the city. The original ordinance was not meant to stop a local, family-run hardware store from being installed in the area.
According to Jim Gramling of Gramling Law Firm who represents Ditta enterprises, the Ditta family hosted a couple of neighborhood meetings where it invited residents who lived within 400 feet of the planned site to come and voice their objections to the family.
According to Gramling, the Ditta family made many adjustments from feedback at the first meeting and hosted a second meeting.
The ordinance was passed to allow rezoning.
Technical difficulties during the meeting along with lag times in public comment through social media, phone lines and email provided some challenges for city officials.
“It’s not going to be perfect,” Perrin said. “Any change this drastic is going to have glitches.”