The Sandy Springs City Council has adopted an emergency ordinance in response to the coronavirus pandemic that halts most “non-essential” decisions of city government for 60 days.

The ordinance focused on government actions and not the forced closure of restaurants, as some residents requested, because the closings could kill local businesses, according to Mayor Rusty Paul.

“State of emergency sounds a little ominous…but we are in unchartered waters,” Paul said March 17 at the city’s first-ever virtual council meeting.

A screenshot of Sandy Springs’ first livestream City Council meeting held on March 17. (Hannah Greco)

According to a document posted on the agenda, the emergency ordinance suspends much city government decision-making activity, including:

  • Closing city facilities and programming to the public 
  • Suspending all public hearings and meetings of city-affiliated boards, committees, commissions and zoning entities 
  • Suspending all zonings, plats, variances and other land-use decision-making
  • Suspending special use permits, variances and alcohol permits requiring a public hearing

According to the city, any existing permits that require a public hearing prior to renewal will be extended until public hearings are resumed. City staff is also working with applicants to ensure financial impact is kept to a minimum, the ordinance said.

The ordinance has the exception of council meetings, which may be conducted via teleconference, without the requirement of having a quorum present in person, so long as notice is provided and access is afforded to the public, the document said.

All policy-making functions of the council including strategic plans; ordinances; land use planning functions; and development will be suspended while the ordinance is in effect, except for policy-making and ordinance functions directly related to addressing the coronavirus.

Contract, budgeting and fiscal operations continue normally, according to the ordinance. For instance, during the meeting, it was announced that the city will issue a request for proposals for a housing assessment on March 18 — a contractual decision — and the council approved purchasing property with impact fees for future park use.

The ordinance is in effect immediately for 60 days. On or before that deadline, the council can re-enact or repeal the ordinance, the city said. Otherwise, the ordinance would automatically expire after 60 days.

The ordinance was originally drafted to be in effect for 30 days, but the council approved the amendment to 60 days because only one council meeting would fall within the 30-day time period, on April 7.

According to David Hudson, an attorney and board member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, under Georgia’s Open Meetings Act, emergency meetings can be held virtually if the public is allowed access.

“There is no specific language addressing the members meeting in person but giving the public only audio or audiovisual access,” Hudson said in an email. “However, I believe that what the Council proposes to do meets the intent of the Open Meetings Act: an emergency and the public will be given audiovisual access.”

City not closing restaurants, bars for now

While some local cities have announced restrictions on bars, restaurants and entertainment venues, the Sandy Springs ordinance does not address it.

Two residents submitted public comments regarding their concern with entertainment venues still being open. Public comment cards were to be submitted before the meeting and were read by the city clerk for the record at the meeting.

One resident’s comment said restaurants should offer take out and delivery only, similar to Brookhaven’s recently adopted ordinance.

“My request comes from the concern that neighbors are not staying at home,” the resident’s comment said.

Shea Roberts, who is a resident of Sandy Springs and who also is running against Deborah Silcox for the District 52 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives, submitted a comment requesting that all restaurants and bars be closed to patrons for two weeks minimum and be restricted to take out and delivery.

During mayor and councilmember reports at the end of the meeting, Paul said there is no state directive on closing restaurants or issuing curfews. 

“If we close a lot of these restaurants, many of them are not going to reopen,” Paul said. “They’re small businesses and you’re looking at people who put their life savings in these. We need to make sure we have a lifeline for those restaurants.”

Paul called on residents to support local restaurants to order take-out or delivery rather than dining in.

The Brookhaven City Council March 16 unanimously approved an ordinance declaring a “state of emergency” in the city that calls for the immediate shutting down of local bars, restaurants and entertainment venues due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. Take-out and delivery options are still available, according to the ordinance.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on March 16 signed a new executive order that limits occupancy of restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas, clubs and other public gathering spots to no more than 50 people. 

The Dunwoody City Council is set to hold a special called meeting on March 18 to consider passing an emergency ordinance declaring a “local emergency” but it is unclear whether it will include the closing of restaurants and bars.

City’s first livestream council meeting

Due to the pandemic, the city barred the public from attending the March 17 meeting in person. The meeting was shown in livestream on the city’s Facebook page.

The meeting was the debut of livestreaming a Sandy Springs council meeting. Sandy Springs is unusual among local municipal and county governments in not regularly offering live or recorded video of its council meetings.

That practice had continued after the 2018 opening of its high-tech, $229 million City Springs civic center, which includes full artistic facilities, including a professional theater that doubles as the council chamber. A city spokesperson at the time explained the lack of video by citing a lack of public demand and anecdotal reports that such broadcasts make meetings run longer.

Mayor Paul and five of the six City Council members were in live attendance of the meeting. Councilmember Tibby DeJulio, one of the older members on the council, was phoned in remotely to the meeting and did not participate in any votes. That action was done to be in accordance with Georgia law, according to the city. 

“I’m there in spirit,” DeJulio said, who said he did not report in-person due to an abundance of caution.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised older adults to “stay at home as much as possible” to avoid COVID-19.

For the latest information about the new coronavirus, see the CDC website at cdc.gov.

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