Council discusses manpower issues, public access at borough hall

Meetings will gradually open up as COVID conditions warrant.

Like many municipalities across the state, Palmyra is coming to terms with how to bring borough staff, administrators, officials and the public back safely and quickly to town hall.

Mass vaccination efforts over the past several months have resulted in the number of COVID cases dropping precipitously, but those in positions of power have to accommodate both vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals. During its June 7 virtual public meeting, Palmyra’s borough council and its administrator engaged in a lengthy discussion about how to accomplish that as early as possible.

Ultimately, there was accord on doing so during the week following the July 4 holiday, but not before officials waded through some technical issues prompted by edicts from Trenton. 

Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order hours before the council meeting that  ended the COVID public health emergency he declared in March 2020, but maintained the state of emergency declared in the same. That presented a unique challenge to all involved.

“As far as borough staff is concerned, we should not require (them) to be vaccinated. But we are allowed to ask if they have been, and announce certain different rules for those who have been vaccinated versus those who have not,” said Administrator John Gural. 

Gural revealed, to date, he had received a vaccination report from nearly every  borough employee, with the rest expected to follow the next day. 

“The upshot is, most of our staff is vaccinated,” he added. “Everyone that works in borough hall is. There are some public works employees that are not.”

Gural stated there would be different criteria for staff who are vaccinated and staff who are not. Based upon state recommendations, the borough plans to require non-vaccinated individuals to wear masks on a full-time basis and maintain social distance at all times. In addition, employees would likely continue to wear masks inside the building if not seated in their own work space. 

According to Gural, plans were in the works for all borough employees to attend a staff meeting on June 16, at which time he will provide updated information to all staff regarding all rules for reopening. 

In terms of staffing, Gural told council he would like to limit the number of people inside the municipal building to three at a time, and one of those would be a previously laid off,  part-time employee at the front entrance. Both he and Municipal Clerk Doretha Jackson are scheduled to have “a more substantive conversation” on the issue during the week of June 14. 

As far as the future of in person council and other meetings are concerned, the borough is contracted to hold the sessions virtually through the end of June, according to Jackson. Gural noted that council might want to return in person for its scheduled meeting in the second week of July. 

“If you do that, then we should probably ask council members to submit proof of vaccination, because you’re obviously all sitting up there (without social distance),” he explained. “Or maybe (meetings can proceed with) a combination of those who want to participate live, and those who choose not to.”

With prodding from Councilwoman Bernadette Russell, Mayor Gina Ragomo Tait later agreed that proof of vaccinations should be required for government officials. In contrast, council President Tim Howard said he had not yet availed himself of the vaccine, though he will be eligible in June. He admitted, “I’m not gung ho on getting the shot.” 

Both Russell and fellow council member Brandon Allmond suggested a hybrid meeting structure for the near future, to properly accommodate council members and residents who may not yet be comfortable attending in a small space. 

“This is adding a component that we’ve never really thought about before,” Russell said.

Gural said figuring out the technical aspect of hybrid meetings shouldn’t be difficult, given it will take several laptops with video capability to transmit the session live to the public. Council member Michelle McCann offered that a hybrid set-up would mirror aspects of virtual teaching, with each council member logged into a meeting and those present in borough hall and at home able to see each other at one time. 

In other news

  • Council passed additional legislation dealing with Environmental Resolutions  Inc., awarding it a contract for additional engineering services involving planned enhancements to Veterans Memorial Park in the amount of $6,750, and another contract for $51,000 toward engineering services for the borough’s fall 2021 road program,
  • Per another resolution, council approved Patrick Daly as a member of the Junior Firefighter’s Auxiliary to the Palmyra Fire Department.