As Gov. Greg Abbott announced his details May 18 for the second phase of opening Texas while minimizing the spread of COVID-19, the leadership of the City Harker Heights continues to implement strategies for opening up strategies that began May 4.
One of the newest changes is the opening of all restrooms at city parks.
The one that is drawing considerable interest is Abbott’s opening up of youth sports on May 31.
In a phone interview with Jeff Achee, director of parks and recreation for the City this week, he told the Herald, “He’s talking about our kind of sports programs but we’re still on hold for the moment. Our staff is currently working with city leaders to generate a response to what the governor has outlined.”
City Manager David Mitchell told the Herald Wednesday that since City Hall has opened up, foot traffic has been steady in the lobby but not at levels that have created an issue with social distancing or building capacity limits.
Mitchell said, “Citizens continue to better utilize the city’s online, phone, kiosk and drive through services. The opening of the lobby has taken some pressure off the drive thru window. ”
A document dated May 4 outlining the city’s operational changes stated that actual jury and bench trails are being delayed until further notice.
Municipal Court operations traditionally drive the largest numbers of people to City Hall. Shutting down hearings and trials indefinitely has limited the larger numbers of foot traffic into City Hall, greatly keeping the numbers manageable within the lobby.
Mitchell said, “Just this week, our municipal court began to utilize virtual dockets and arraignments. This allows courts to begin to process cases while protecting citizens and staff. The technology may be something that we utilize more often even after restrictions are lifted.”
City Hall remained open for business even when the doors to the lobby were closed. The city used various technologies to process the needs of residents. Permits were still available online and inspections were still being performed in the field.
Staff meetings have been conducted through Microsoft’s Teams software that allows for video conferencing. At the beginning of the pandemic, the staff instituted social distancing practices by rotating work schedules. Since the opening of the lobby, vacant office spacing and conference rooms are being used to accommodate the social distancing requirements.
Concerning City Council meetings, Mitchell told the Herald, “We’ve received no complaints about the telephonic approach. The computer software allows us to conduct open meetings and provides a way for anyone who wants to listen and participate to do so by way of the call-in number and meeting code that is listed on the weekly posted agenda.”
When this started, only the mayor would come into City Hall for the meetings. The easing of restrictions by the governor now allows the entire council to come to City Hall; however, only staff members who have items on the agenda are allowed in council chambers.
The wearing of masks is highly encouraged for trips to City Hall per the directives and advice from the Bell County Public Health District, the CDC and State of Texas.
Markers have been placed on the floor for maintaining social distancing while residents are waiting in line. Custodians perform extra cleaning in the lobby and bathroom areas to ensure the safety of citizens.
The Herald asked Mitchell if the opening of City Hall has been an efficient move for productivity and does it meet the city’s vision.
“This is a great question,” he said. “Some efficiency has been identified, but serving people requires people, and I find that is best done face-to-face and person-to-person.
“I think we’re able to maintain most aspects of our vision during this time, being able to meet face to face are still preferred. We want to fully understand citizen issues so we can find better solutions.”