What started as a calm, business-as-usual City Council meeting Jan. 12 turned caustic briefly as two councilmen exchanged heated words.
It began with a vote to elect council president and vice president. The vote went strictly along party lines, with Republican Paul Ensley, 1st District, elected president and Republican Russ Jehl, 2nd District, elected vice president.
Then council ratified a collective bargaining agreement for the firefighters represented by the Professional Fire Fighters Union, Local 124 Inc., for 2021.
The next and last bill on the agenda for the first meeting on the year was a resolution to approve the city’s COVID-19 Employee and Operations policy. City attorney Carol Helton and Laura Helmkamp, HR benefits manager, were there to explain the policy.
Last year through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act the federal government mandated employers to offer paid leave for those who couldn’t work because they either had COVID-19 or were exposed to it and therefore had to quarantine. The city offered 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave in 2020, but that mandate from the federal government expired Dec. 31 as did the city’s coverage, so Helmkamp and Helton were there to explain modifications to the Public Health Leave provisions that would be retroactive to Jan. 1 and would be re-evaluated March 31.
Council member Tom Didier, R-3rd District, worried about employees who had COVID-19 in 2020, exhausting their emergency leave, and then got it again in 2021. A few cases have been reported of people getting it twice. Helmkamp explained that anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 again could use short-term disability for 90 days and then go on long-term disability.
Employees who used all their emergency paid leave in 2020 also have the option of using accrued vacation time and, when that’s gone, can seek a leave of absence.
Jason Arp, R-4th District, raised the point that the Allen County Department of Health says a 14-day quarantine is necessary for those who have been exposed and are in the incubation period. Arp noted that the CDC has reduced that quarantine period to 10 days, and suggested the city should align itself with CDC guidelines.
But Helton said, “We just have to follow the guidelines that are set out by the Board of Health and the CDC. We can’t vary that.”
The policy that the city follows is 10 days off from the onset of symptoms, or 14 days incubation if exposed.
“We have to follow the best possible scientific protocol that is in place right now,” Helton said. “Our board of health is still mandating the 14 days, so that is what we are following currently.”
Glynn Hines, D-at large, joined the conversation and mentioned that Arp doesn’t support wearing masks, a topic that wasn’t discussed at that meeting. Hines then started to ask Helton if the city had recourse against “those ignorant type people that don’t think they should mask up and want to jeopardize the health of other people, are there any ...”
“Point of order. Point of order! POINT OF ORDER,” Arp said, his voice rising. “I will not be called ignorant.”
Didier reached for his gavel as the two talked over each other. “Guys, guys. Come on guys, get back to what we’re talking about,” he said.
Helton did eventually answer Hines’ question, saying the city hasn’t looked into the enforcement of wearing masks, but the Police Department does work with the board of health.
The resolution did pass on an 8-1 vote, with Arp voting no.