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IM closes playgrounds, athletic fields

IRON MOUNTAIN — City Park will remain open but the children’s playground is off limits as Iron Mountain officials try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The city council, staff and a handful of observers met Monday via video conference from their homes and offices. Under the council’s new order, public gathering and recreation areas are closed, including playgrounds, athletic fields, pavilions, observation decks, skate park, dog park and tennis, pickleball and basketball courts.

City Park is open for activities such as walking or bicycling, but everyone is expected to stay at least 6 feet from anyone outside their household.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to do this,” Mayor Dale Alessandrini said. “We have to protect the people because they’re not going to protect themselves.”

The council’s order gives police discretion in enforcement, City Manager Jordan Stanchina said. There may be a distinction, for instance, between two household members playing catch on a ball field and a team gathering for practice.

The recreation closure was approved 6-1. The no vote came from council member Ken Clawson, who suggested the city is discouraging outdoor exercise.

Alessandrini said there are too many examples of residents not taking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order seriously.

“Keep people home,” he said at the meeting’s conclusion. “Let’s try to get rid of this thing.”

Earlier, the mayor cited walkers hugging on the street and “900 people going to Home Depot on Saturday” as evidence the message hasn’t gotten through.

The city’s action coincides with the duration of the governor’s order, which expires April 13 but is almost certain to be extended.

Police and Fire Services Director Ed Mattson said placing a snow fence around City Park’s playground will be helpful in enforcement. Otherwise, the city will mostly rely on signage.

“Were going to do what we can with the materials we have,” Stanchina said.

Last week, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Robert Gordon issued an Emergency Order setting a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for violations of the state’s stay-at-home directives.

The governor’s order allows essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies, carry-out restaurants, gas stations, utility companies, and medical centers to stay open. People are still permitted to go outside to exercise or walk their dogs.

Residents need to recognize that — in limiting personal contact — a household is not the same as immediate family, Stanchina noted. “It’s who’s in your house,” he said.

In other action, the council:

— Extended the closure of City Hall indefinitely. Since the building was first closed March 17, most employees are carrying out duties from home, with little time spent in the office.

— Adopted an addendum to the city’s Family and Medical Leave Act to provide the ability for an employee to leave work and care for a minor child due to an emergency with respect to COVID-19. Eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of Public Health Emergency Leave through Dec. 31, with the first two weeks unpaid and the remaining 10 weeks compensated at a rate of two-thirds the regular rate of pay, up to a cap of $200 per day. Employees may choose to substitute vacation, personal, medical or sick leave, or paid time off, during the unpaid portion. Police and fire employees do not qualify for the emergency leave, except for clerical workers.

— Agreed to consider, at a later meeting, hazard pay for some employees.

— In light of COVID-19, acknowledged there will probably be no spring cleanup dropoffs scheduled in May. Traditionally, the city makes dumpsters available in front of the public works building.

— Under provisions of an order from Whitmer, adopted a resolution to allow video conference meetings to continue. An agenda and participation instructions will be posted on the city’s website at least 18 hours prior to any scheduled meeting.

— Approved an Assurance of Compliance statement as required by the U.S. Department of Health Human Services for obtaining federal grants or other financial assistance. Deputy-Director of Fire Services Jeff Friedenstab plans to apply for fire department equipment grants for everyday needs and training supplies, Mattson said.

— Reappointed five members of the Downtown Development Authority to four-year terms — Mark Klossner, David Hendrickson, Anthony Tatangelo, Kim Harder Webb and Lisa Villringer.

— Approved publication of water bills overdue by three months or more. The unpaid charges will be added to property tax bills if not paid by April 30.

— Noted that hydrant flushing is scheduled to take place the week of April 20.

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