Lenoir City Council on Monday adopted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act policy.
The federal bill was signed into law March 18 by President Donald Trump. The bill aims to help employees impacted by COVID-19 and applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees. Included in the act are provisions for paid Family and Medical Leave Act leave related to child care disruption and paid sick time for reasons pertaining to the virus. The act will go into effect April 2.
“The way I understand that is that that will allow us to — us or them — to be reimbursed by the federal government and state government to be able to get some of that money back,” Eddie Simpson, councilman, said. “I guess if that happens then maybe have a chance of getting their sick days back or be compensated for it, one or the other, and I think that’s a good thing also. The utilities and the city I think it was a good thing.”
Councilmen Jim Shields and Simpson motioned and seconded, respectively, with the vote passing 4-0. Councilmen Bobby Johnson Sr., and Douglas “Buddy” Hines were absent. Lenoir City Utilities Board also approved the policy during its meeting before city council.
“We want to be in compliance,” Tony Aikens, Lenoir City mayor, said. “The federal government says, ‘You should adopt it,’ so we want to be in compliance with all the labor laws. In order for us to do that city council had to adopt it. If someone, family member or someone gets sick, we don’t want to penalize that person, we want them to get paid, or if they need to take off for family sickness, so that’s the reason why we adopted it. Besides it being the law, we want to assure the employees that we’re trying to take care of them and keep them safe, and on the utilities side, too.”
Although a vote was not taken, council and Aikens discussed allowing city employees to use sick leave if they felt uncomfortable working due to the concerns over the virus.
“I’ve had discussion with the city administrator and the finance director and the treasurer and the public safety director today regarding some possible implementation of while keeping city hall open and to give the employees an opportunity if they wanted, if they don’t feel comfortable with staying here all the time, give them some alternative options as far as taking some sick time and rotate those employees in and out,” Aikens said during the meeting. “... We did talk about probably also while we want to keep the city park itself open and maybe the Rock Springs Park where people can go out and walk and be out in the fresh air, with the possibility of closing the downtown Central Park for right now.”
Employee safety is important, Amber Scott, city administrator, said.
“We want to make our employees feel as though their interest is at our heart and that we do care about their feelings of discomfort and their obligations during this time,” Scott said. “However, once the Families First Coronavirus Response Act goes into effect, as you know, with that act there would be other ways that we could deal with this.”
Councilwoman Jennifer Wampler was in favor of the decision.
“It does allow those that need to be home with their families to take that time,” Wampler said. “Of course, the death rate — any death rate is bad but if you contact it it’s like a 3 percent, so even if you get you more than likely will recover. But any case of flu or pneumonia is difficult, but I think having our employees know that they have that option, I think that’s good. Right now with the children being out, child care is very important, and of course all the pre-schools and everything are closed. I just think it’s important for them to have the time and knowing that there will still be some income. Anything to push local, small businesses. Buy, shop small.”
Closure of the Central Park playground will go into effect immediately, Scott said.
“We’re just going to make the decision to close it,” she said. “The reason why is because that is a fenced park and it is easier to close that one. It does seem to be more heavily utilized during this time of year. It’s a bit harder to close the parks, and city park they’re more open, but we want to encourage people to use our greenways and walk around and exercise. However, discouraging the use of the playground equipment at this time.”
Wampler agreed precautions should be taken.
“Any time that you have a basically I guess a contagion going around and you’re not really sure how it works, just any precaution you can take,” she said. “I have upper respiratory issues, so I get pneumonia all the time. A lot of it is common sense, don’t panic, don’t go out in the community and be into close contact, but especially children and elderly. So, of course, I think the parks are probably our most important. I do want the walking parks to stay open so those that are well can be out, but I think small children in contact is dangerous.”
In other matters, Lenoir City Council:
• Approved health insurance renewals effective July 1 through Cigna with no increase.
• Approved closing Broadway from Kingston to C streets for 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. April 25 for the downtown Spring Fling and 4-9 p.m. May 15, June 19 and July 17 for Nights on Broadway.
• Moved forward with a Depot Street sidewalk project at $13,340 through contractor Junior Ward.
• Agreed to purchase parking and decorative banners for the newly updated portion of downtown.
• Declared the pool dome as surplus property.
• Adopted the Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan.
• Canceled the April 13 meeting.