Elkins, W. Va., September 26, 2020: In the only meeting currently scheduled for next week, council meets in person Thursday at 7 p.m. Agenda items include consideration of a contract for human-resources services from AlignHR and the ongoing discussion of possible changes to the city charter.
On Tuesday, the Elkins Firefighters Civil Service Commission meets in closed session to interview prospective firefighters. After interviews are completed, an updated list of candidates eligible to join the department will be posted.
At last night’s meeting, Elkins Common Council did not restrict or limit Halloween trick-or-treating, which–by order of a 2019 action of council–is always observed in Elkins on October 31st, from 6:30 until 8:00 p.m.
However, council urges residents and trick-or-treaters to follow CDC recommendations for reducing the chances of transmitting the COVID-19 virus during Halloween celebrations.
The CDC considers the following traditional Halloween activities to be “higher risk”: trick-or-treating (in which treats are handed directly to children who go door to door in groups), trunk-or-treat events, and indoor parties.
As one alternative to traditional trick-or-treating, the CDC recommends “one-way trick-or-treating.” In one-way trick-or-treating, individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance (such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard). Persons preparing goodie bags for one-way trick-or-treating should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before preparing the bags.
Learn more about CDC recommendations for safer Halloween observances here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html#halloween
Elkins, W. Va., September 24, 2020: The Elkins Tree Board recently presented the Elkins Parks and Recreation Commission a commemorative tree and plaque in gratitude for EPRC staff’s efforts in keeping Glendale Park open this past Spring.
“For many area residents, walking at Glendale Park was one of the few places available to enjoy the outdoors in a safe environment,” said Nanci Bross-Fregonara, Tree Board member. Dog-walkers, runners, and families on bikes were all able to be outside and have a chance to enjoy nature and exercise.”
The plaque, which will be installed by the planted bald cypress tree near the park’s entrance, expresses the Tree Board’s appreciation for the EPRC “providing a place of beauty and inspiration during the national pandemic.”
“I am sure there are many people in the community who are grateful for all the work the EPRC does to keep our city parks in great condition, especially during these challenging times,” said Bross-Fregonara. “This was just one small way we could honor them and commemorate what affected our area in 2020.”
For information on supporting the EPRC and its efforts, please contact the Elkins Parks and Recreation office, 304-636-3960 or email email@example.com.
Photo: Tom Tesar, Director of the Elkins Parks and Recreation Department accepts the cast plaque from Nanci Bross-Fregonara, Elkins Tree Board member, right and Marilynn Cuonzo, Chair of the Elkins Tree Board and Fourth Ward Council member.
Elkins, W. Va., September 19, 2020: The Sanitary Board, which is in charge of the city’s sewer system and wastewater treatment plant, meets in person on Monday at 3:15 p.m. Agenda items include a flow study on Sylvester Drive, approval of invoices, and review of financial statements.
Council’s Economic Growth and Development (EGAD) Committee meets in person Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Among other agenda items, the committee will continue to discuss next steps related to annexation.
Council meets in person Thursday at 7 p.m. The agenda is not yet complete, but one item will be the ongoing consideration of possible charter changes.
On Friday, at 11 a.m., the Elkins Planning Commission meets virtually to continue work on the new zoning ordinance. Login will be posted here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/council-and-committee-meetings
All council, committee, and commission meetings are open to the public and held at Elkins City Hall (401 Davis Avenue) unless otherwise stated.
Elkins, W. Va., September 10, 2020: Elkins Common Council and its committees will return to in-person meetings effective immediately, Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton announced today. A memo from Mayor Van Broughton explained that the first in-person committee meetings will be held next week, while the regular council meeting of September 17 will be postponed to September 24 to allow time for the installation of protective plexiglass barriers in council chambers.
“Council members have made clear that they feel they cannot deliberate effectively unless they are in the same room together,” says Sutton. “We haven’t found a workable way to enable that while also broadcasting the meetings audibly for the public, so there is no way forward but to return to fully in-person meetings as soon as possible.”
City of Elkins suspended in-person meetings upon Mayor Broughton’s declaration of a citywide state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 virus pandemic on March 17. The primary obstacle to in-person council meetings was the size of the group that is required to be in attendance.
“Elkins has a ten-person city council, which is one of the largest in the state,” says Sutton. “There are also six city staff members who are required to attend council meetings. That’s a big crowd to try to space out six feet apart while still enabling the meeting to be audible online, and of course we had to accomplish both of these goals given the governor’s orders and recommendations to stay out of public spaces as much as possible.”
Instead, and in accordance with advice issued by the West Virginia Ethics Commission, which administers the state’s open meetings laws, virtual meetings were held on the Zoom platform, with councilors, staff, and members of the public all joining remotely. However, this approach encountered some technical glitches and one “Zoom bombing” attack, and councilors increasingly expressed interest in being able to deliberate in person.
In response, the city clerk’s office ordered installation of a software solution that would bring the signal from the council-chamber sound board into a computer for broadcast over Zoom.
“The purpose of this solution was to enable councilors to deliberate in council chambers while letting the public listen to clear audio of the meeting online,” says Sutton.
This solution still didn’t solve the social distancing problem raised by a full meeting of council and its administrative officers, however, so at first the plan was to use this approach only for meetings of council’s three-member committees. However, the first two committee meetings that used this solution were plagued by audio issues.
“Councilors are intent on meeting in person, and we just don’t have a good way to enable them to do so while making clear audio of the meeting available online,” says Sutton. “So, starting next week, we’ll go to full in-person meetings once again, with both meeting participants and audience members able to gather in council chambers.”
Staff will continue to explore how to make the meeting audio available online, but the city’s experience so far suggests that this may not be feasible without significant additional cost.
The mayor’s memo outlines safety precautions that will be taken for these in-person meetings. These include maximum occupancy limitations for council chambers to ensure all audience members may be seated six feet apart, restrictions against entry by people suffering from the symptoms of or having tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, and a requirement that face coverings be worn by all meeting participants and audience members except when addressing the meeting.
“It’s frustrating to have to leave the virtual option behind for the time being, because I think that offers a really good opportunity for attendance by people who otherwise might not be able to come to council meetings,” says Sutton. “The good news is that this change will eliminate a major distraction and allow council to focus even more strongly on doing the people’s business.”
Elkins, W. Va., September 5, 2020: Elkins City Hall is closed Monday in observance of Labor Day. Trash normally collected Mondays will be collected on Tuesday. Please have trash outside no later than 6 a.m. on Tuesday.
At a virtual meeting at 12 p.m. on Thursday, council’s Rules & Ordinances Committee continues its discussion of the city’s noise ordinance. The committee will also resume its examination of city laws concerning operation of off-road vehicles (e.g., ATVs, UTVs, etc.) on public roadways, to see if modifications are needed in response to recent changes in state code.
The Elkins Fire Department is testing for prospective civil service firefighters on Saturday. There are currently no openings but testing for placement on the department’s list of eligible candidates is the only way to become a paid firefighter in Elkins if a position does become available. Download an application and find more information, including test requirements, here: www.bit.ly/ElkinsCivilService. Applications are due to the city clerk’s office no later than 3 p.m. Friday.
All council and committee meetings are open to the public. For virtual meeting login info, agendas, and information about submitting public comments, please see: www.cityofelkinswv.com/login.
In support of council’s consideration of possible changes to the city’s charter, staff created and released an online survey on the Survey Monkey platform. The survey was promoted via the following channels:
- Paid advertising in the Inter-Mountain
- Multiple press releases, all of which were published in the Inter-Mountain and on the city website
- Two TV news stories mentioning the survey’s availability
- “Sidebar alert” with link to survey on every page of the city website
- Multiple Facebook posts
- Messages sent to the city’s email newsletter list
- Direct email to various city stakeholders
- Dissemination by Elkins Main Street and the Elkins-Randolph Chamber of Commerce email lists
The survey was available from August 14 through September 2. During that time, 115 people responded to the survey. The survey had 10 questions, which are summarized below (actual question wording on the survey was different than shown below; the questions are reprinted in full in the attached results). All questions were optional, meaning that respondents did not have to answer every question to submit their answers.
- Are you a resident/property owner/business owner, etc.?
- Name and address. (These answers are not included in the attached results.)
- Which charter-change background materials have you reviewed?
- Should the charter be changed?
- What aspects of the charter should be changed?
- If you oppose changing the charter, why?
- What form of government do you prefer for Elkins?
- Should council be resized?
- Should council be restructured?
- What else would you like to share about possible charter changes?
Here is an overview of some of the results:
- There was strong support for “updating” the charter. Almost 69% of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed that “the Elkins City Charter should be updated” (question 4).
- More than 80 percent of respondents want council to “update obsolete sections” of the charter (question 5). The next most popular category of changes was “restructure/resize council” (54 percent), followed by change the form of government (49 percent).
- When asked what form of government they preferred for Elkins (question 7), 39 percent wanted to keep the current form, followed closely by the 35 percent who favored some form of manager-based government (i.e., either Manager or Manager-Mayor). Least popular was the idea of adopting a Strong Mayor Plan (26 percent).
- Regarding changing the size of council (question 8), most respondents want to reduce it (50 percent). Those who wanted to keep it the same as it is now numbered 35 percent. Only 14 percent wanted a larger council.
- When asked (question 9) about changing the structure of council (ward vs. at-large representation, ward vs. at-large voting, etc.), 39 percent favored the current strict ward-based qualification and election. The next largest group, at 19 percent, wanted to keep ward-based representation but adopt at-large (citywide) voting for all council seats. At 16 percent, those who want a mix of at-large and ward councilors came in third place.
It is important to keep in mind that these results cannot be described as representative of public opinion. Unlike a poll, respondents were not randomly selected, so they cannot be said to represent a cross-section of the community. This survey would not have been available, for example, to people lacking internet access. Also, despite the efforts made to publicize the survey, it is still possible that some potential respondents may not have heard about it.
The results may be downloaded in PDF form here.
If you prefer viewing the survey results online, you may do so by clicking here.
Weather conditions contributed to widespread fungal infection
Elkins, W. Va., September 2, 2020: The city’s downtown flower display was afflicted with a fungal infection earlier this summer, and the contractor that manages the display will replant the affected baskets next week at no cost to the city.
“Earlier in the season, the plants in the downtown hanging baskets were doing really well, but the rainy weather we’ve been having recently seems to have led to a fungal outbreak among most of the baskets,” says Tammy Dolly, who manages the downtown display. “In response, we treated the affected baskets with a copper fungicide around August 12. We began to gain a little ground before the last run of rain, but that just sent them over the edge.”
Dolly reported the problem to city officials and offered to remove and compost the dead plants, then replace them with mums at her own expense. Council’s Municipal Properties Committee accepted this offer at its August 19 meeting, and replanting will proceed during the week of September 7.
“I take great pride in the flowers and look forward to caring for them each year, and I’m sincerely sorry this year’s display turned out this way,” says Dolly. “We’ve never had anything like this happen to any of our flowers anywhere, and I’m not sure what we could have done differently. We’re just happy to have a plan in place to move forward, and we will keep watering as long as we can this fall to keep the mums looking nice.”
Elkins, W. Va., August 29, 2020: On Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m., council will host an in-person Charter Change Q&A event at the Phil Gainer Community Center. Council’s charter-change attorney will present a brief summary of his analysis of the current charter, which was last updated in 1901. Then council will take questions and comments from in-person attendees. To reduce chances of transmitting the COVID-19 virus, seats will be placed 6 feet apart, face coverings are required, and only 72 audience members will be admitted. See: www.bit.ly/ElkinsCharterUpdate.
Elkins Tree Board meets Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Darden Garden, between city hall and the Darden House. The board will consider agenda items including setting tree planting and maintenance workdays and the possibility of an Adopt-a-Tree program.
At its 5:30 p.m. Thursday virtual meeting, council’s EGAD Committee will discuss next steps for annexation and the placement of electric vehicle charging stations in Elkins.
Council meets virtually in regular session Thursday at 7 p.m. The meeting will begin with a public hearing concerning the issuance of bonds to fund Phase II of the sewer/stormwater separation project. (See: www.bit.ly/Phase2Sewer)
Council’s regular meeting commences immediately following this hearing. The agenda is not yet complete but includes the third and final reading of the ordinance issuing the sewer bonds. Council will also receive the results of the online charter-change survey and continue its discussion of possible charter changes.
There will be written and physical civil-service testing for prospective firefighters September 12. More information, including test requirements, here: www.bit.ly/ElkinsCivilService
All council and committee meetings are open to the public. For virtual meeting login info, agendas, and information about submitting public comments, please see: www.cityofelkinswv.com/login.
Elkins Common Council will host an in-person Charter Change Q&A event at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 1 at the Phil Gainer Center. Council’s charter-change attorney, Tim Stranko, will present the findings of his analysis of the current charter, which was last updated in 1901. Then council will take questions and comments from in-person attendees.
Stranko’s presentation at Tuesday’s Q&A will present three main categories of possible charter changes. The first category consists of updates to charter provisions that have been rendered obsolete by changes in state law and the evolution of the Elkins city government. These updates would simplify and modernize the charter without significantly affecting the form and functioning of the city government.
The second category in Stranko’s presentation will be possible changes to council size, elections, and representation. While Elkins uses strict ward-based representation and election processes, many other West Virginia cities have at least some “at-large” council members or have ward-based members face citywide election.
“At-large representation and citywide voting might increase voter turnout and enable a wider range of people to run for office,” says Sutton. “State code is not very specific about these aspects of city councils, so there are a few possible options.”
The third category includes possible changes to the structure of the city government. State law authorizes West Virginia cities to use one of five government structures, or plans. Under the current plan, council holds both governing and administrative authority and the mayor has almost no independent authority (i.e., what state code calls the Mayor-Council Plan). Other available plans assign administrative authority to either a mayor (i.e., Strong Mayor Plan) or a city manager (i.e., the Manager or Mayor-Manager plans).
“In the city’s strategic plan, council set a goal of evaluating the feasibility of adopting a city manager form of government,” says Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton. “That evaluation is ongoing, so now is the time for the public to speak up if that is something they support or oppose.”
The Q&A session will follow the governor’s orders and public health guidelines for reducing the risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus. Attendees must wear masks at all times inside the building and will be seated six feet apart from each other. A total of 72 members of the public will be admitted.
Due to technical obstacles, the Q&A will not be livestreamed. A written summary of questions and answers will be posted to the city’s website.
“We don’t currently have the tools to livestream an event with so many different potential speakers and ensure that viewers would be able to hear all questions and answers,” says Sutton. “If anyone isn’t comfortable attending an in-person event or has a schedule conflict, they can email ideas and concerns to me and, if time permits, I’ll present them to council and Mr. Stranko during the Q&A.”
Sutton pointed out that there are additional options for public input.
“Our online survey will be available through September 2 and people can also submit public comments for any upcoming council meetings,” she says. “Also, before council can finally adopt a charter by ordinance, state law requires a formal public hearing. Right now, the earliest that could happen would be sometime in October.”
Sutton emphasized the importance of public input during this process.
“Changing the city’s charter could profoundly affect Elkins for generations. It’s vital that councilors hear as much input as possible so they can draft a charter update that everyone can feel good about.”
For a link to the online survey and more charter-related information, including the text of the current charter, a charter-change FAQ, and other background resources, please visit: www.bit.ly/ElkinsCharterUpdate.