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LaGrange City Council declares state of emergency for the next 60 days

The LaGrange City Council declared a state of emergency in LaGrange for the next 60 days on Tuesday due to the COVID-19 virus.

The details of the state of emergency provide that there shall be no public gatherings on any publically-owned property. An ordinance passed by the council says a public gathering means the organized gathering or assembly of multiple people at a specific location that is owned or controlled by the city. Such properties include any park, public square, public space, playground or recreational area.

However, the ordinance said nothing will prohibit individuals or families from using sidewalks, The Thread or designated pedestrian areas of parks for walking or other exercise, where no organized gathering is occurring.

Additionally, throughout the declared emergency, the city will not disconnect utility services provided by the city because of non-payment.

The state of emergency also allows LaGrange City Manager Meg Kelsey to determine what city services are required and what is discretionary and also assign city employees to such assignments. Kelsey will also have the ability to temporarily suspend discretionary services and direct those employees to stay home from work until the situation changes.

If an employee is told not to report to work, they will be paid their regular wage. City employees who are deemed required to work will be paid time and a half their normal wage.

Kelsey will also have the ability to contract and expend non-budgeted funds and services to meet the needs of government services throughout the emergency. Such non-budgeted expenditures must be reported to the city council.

During the state of emergency, deadlines for purchasing or obtaining business licenses or permits will be delayed throughout the emergency and for 15 days after.

LaGrange City Hall will not completely shut down during the emergency but access will be restricted to employees only. The ordinance says the customer service drive-thru facility and utility payment drop box will remain open, and citizens are encouraged to work with city staff about issues through telephone, email and the city’s online customer service portal.

LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said the point of Tuesday’s meeting was to assure LaGrange residents that the city is taking matter around the coronavirus seriously.

“We are doing everything in our power to respond and to address the issues that are arising,” he said. “Our overarching goal is to be sure we are following best practices put forth by the Center for Disease Control, the department and public and our president and government and other representatives at the federal and state level.”

Thornton said although the local government may make mistakes throughout this process, it is doing the best it can throughout the crisis.

“We are not trying to cause any unwarranted panic in the community but are trying to make sure we are addressing issues head-on, and not ignoring anything and not trying to withhold any information,” he said. “We are trying to be very transparent to our citizens.”

Councilman W.T. Edmondson said people are living in unpredictable times but they shouldn’t be so afraid that they don’t live their lives.

“This virus is for real. It is nothing to play with. It has affected our nation as well as our city. It is nothing we are to sweep under the rug,” he said. “God has not given the spirit of fear but of sound mind. In saying that, we are not afraid, but a sound mind means being very vigilant.”

He called for proper hand hygiene, social distancing and refraining from handshaking and hugging.

“We are to be safe, we must take these precautions, and I believe we get through this,” Edmondson said.

Councilman Jim Arrington said residents shouldn’t forget about their neighbors during this crisis. He said during the next days, weeks and months, people and small businesses will go through financial and possibly medical hardships.

“I’m sure we are going to see more than we want to see as a community and as a city,” Arrington said. “Let’s be a community that reaches out to each other and show the state what a great community and town LaGrange really is.”

Councilman LeGree McCamey simply asked all residents to use wisdom and good common sense throughout the next several weeks.

“Be safe, and we will get through this,” he said. “Let us be diligent and be the LaGrange and Troup County area that we know we can be.”

Councilman Mark Mitchell thanked the city manager for her work to keep the city financially viable, which allows it to provide services to residents during times of emergency.

“Our government first and foremost is public safety,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if its crime or a virus, that’s our first priority.”

Councilman Tom Gore, who is also a physician at WellStar West Georgia, attended the meeting over the phone because he was at the hospital. He said he’s not seeing patients who are potentially infected, but there are people in the community who are.

“We have nurses, respiratory therapists who treat pulmonary diseases, and these people are right in the rooms treating these people,” he said. “We want to remember the special work that they are doing.”

He said the hospital is consistently adjusting its plans to meet the needs of the community. Gore also added he was pleased with the response from the American public during this crisis, but there’s a long way to go.

“I was expecting people would not be fully corporative, but they have been,” Gore said. “But their patience will be tried. And we may need help from the city to help to enforce some quarantines or things that need to be done to get through this entire crisis.”

Councilman Nathan Gaskin echoed part of Gore’s comments saying this thing is far from over.

“I truly feel this is going to be a marathon ordeal for everyone,” he said.

He recalled how residents are saying the coronavirus situation seems like part of a movie.

“Movies are scripted. People write the ending,” he said. “There is no script for this.”

Gaskin encouraged all residents to thank first responders during the COVID-19 outbreak because of the work they are doing in public every day.

“They are tasked with keeping us safe and secure, and I want all of you to thank them for that when you see them,” he said.

The city has created a website at coronavirus.lagrangega.org. It will have detailed information about the city’s effort against the virus, as well as other government agencies providing information.