Council to discuss actions related to COVID-19

By Kim McConnell

Proposals to help the City of Lawton, some of its related entities and its customers respond to COVID-19 will top the agenda when the City Council meets today.

The session will begin at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Lawton City Hall, Southwest 9th and C.

As has been the norm since mid-March, the agenda will include discussions of city activities related to the COVID-19 pandemic: specifically, actions Lawton is taking to contain the spread of the virus.

Topping the list is approval for two city entities — Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport and the Lawton Area Transit System (LATS) — to apply for grants under the national CARES Act passed by Congress to provide economic help to entities facing economic impacts because of changes forced by the pandemic.

The airport is seeking $1,197,853 for operational expenses, an amount sufficient to provide 100 percent federal share (meaning, no local funding is necessary) to cover airport operations for a year. In addition, LATS managers will file an application seeking $4,524,945 for transit operations, sufficient to provide 100 percent federal share for all projects related to transit operation for the next 15-18 months. Typically, the City of Lawton funds half of LATS’ operating budget, with other percentage shares of projects such as new equipment and facilities.

Both entities have faced revenue losses due to fewer customers using their services. Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport has fewer flights (only one or two) per day and also is facing revenue losses from tenants (such as car rental agencies) who pay a percent of their revenues to the airport but who also are not operating.

LATS still is operating, but is restricting the number of passengers that may ride its buses at one time and running fewer routes, while offering free rides since early April.

In another change related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ward 6 Councilman Sean Fortenbaugh has asked the city manager to look at late fees, charges and penalties normally assessed under city code, to see which can be suspended during the city’s Civil Emergency Proclamation.

In his agenda commentary, Fortenbaugh said the pandemic is having a negative impact on businesses and he wanted to see what kind of relief the City of Lawton might be able to provide city businesses. His request asks the council to direct city staff to survey late fees, charges and penalties normally charged. City officials already have taken some actions to help alleviate problems for residents, including last month’s suspension of disconnections of water accounts for lack of payment.

Any other actions the council may consider will be included under an agenda item that has become standard on council agendas since March 16, when the Civil Emergency Proclamation was first issued. The agenda item allows the council to discuss the status of the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to the City of Lawton, including the Civil Emergency Proclamation issued by Mayor Stan Booker.

Last week, Booker and Mayor Pro Tem/Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk issued a proclamation amendment saying Lawton would follow the three-phase plan to reopen the state announced last week by Gov. Kevin Stitt. Following Stitt’s directives this week would allow indoor dining at restaurants, sporting venues, gymnasiums and movie theaters to reopen Friday, as well as allowing churches to reopen for in-person meetings or worship. Those openings are based on strict criteria that the businesses/entities must follow.

Council members indicated last week that while the city cannot have less strict guidelines in place than the State of Oklahoma, it can have stricter regulations. While Lawton allowed personal care businesses to reopen April 24, Oklahoma City and Tulsa were among the cities that did not.

In other business, the council will consider an early retirement incentive plan proposed by City Manager Michael Cleghorn. The proposal would encourage employees to take retirement in exchange for the city paying a retiree’s medical insurance premium for one year, or giving him/her a lump sum equivalent to one year of health insurance premiums. To quality, employees must declare their retirement plans by May 15, then either retire prior to July 1 or request to be put on terminal leave prior to the end of the 2020-2021 fiscal year (June 30, 2021).

City staff has calculated the cost of one year’s worth of pre-Medicare cost at $7,687.32, or $5,275.32 for a Medicare retiree. City staff also calculated the cost savings for taking that option would be 75 to 90 percent of the annual salary of each qualifying retiree.

In other business, the council will consider:

• Meeting in executive session to discuss the hiring of a city attorney to replace former City Attorney Frank Jensen, who left his post as city attorney in August 2019, and retired from the city in March. Council discussion is expected to include evaluation of candidates who have submitted applications for the post.

• Meeting in executive session for an update on tort claims filed by six female employees alleging administrative and elected officials knew about harassing actions by Jensen.

• Setting the filing period and calling elections for the City Council Ward 6, 7 and 8 seats. The filing period will be June 15-17, with the primary election set for Aug. 25 and the runoff (if needed) Nov. 3. As defined by city charter, those running for council must be a registered voter and a resident in the ward they seek to represent for at least six months prior to filing. There is no filing fee.

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