Council Confronts the ‘New Normal’ of Pandemic Life

The Winthrop Town Council met remotely on Tuesday, April 7, where it tackled community issues both related and unrelated to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Technical Difficulties

The remote council session took place on the online conferencing platform Zoom and was broadcast live by Winthrop Community Access Television (WCAT). During the public comment period, residents could dial a number to be connected to Council Clerk Denise Quist, who then held the phone up to her computer speaker. Most of the callers could not be heard and their comments had to be paraphrased by the clerk. WCAT Executive Director Mike Cabral said he will be working with Quist to improve the audio quality for future meetings.

Financial Assistance

Due to business closures, many Winthrop citizens are struggling financially. Faison reported that his office was receiving guidance from the state regarding municipal aid bills and also looking into how tax extensions and mortgage delays could work. He said that the town is not trying to profit off of the crisis, adding that his own mother was laid off.

“The town is not going to bankrupt anyone,” he said. “We won’t shut anyone’s water off.”

Food Security

Faison is also looking into ways to strengthen Winthrop’s food security for the coming months, stating that the need for donations could extend into early summer. He reported that his office was “thinking outside the box” when it comes to ensuring that food is available to vulnerable residents and Winthrop students, including having a backup supplier on standby and working with Meals on Wheels. The food pantry is still seeking shelf-stable canned goods and nonperishable items.

School Department

The School Committee met remotely from their homes. Superintendent Lisa Howard is in daily contact with the State Commissioner. The district continues to receive kits of educational materials in order to better educate students during the pandemic. The committee also presented its budget for Fiscal Year 2021, which amounted to just under $24 million, a $2.7 million increase over last year’s budget. Town Manager Faison is planning a budget presentation for the April 21 Council meeting with the help of WCAT.

OpenGov

Council voted to transfer $35,400 from the Special Revenue Fund to renew the Town’s

software agreement with OpenGov, an online storage solution for government budgeting, communications and reporting. It is an especially crucial tool during the coronavirus pandemic, as the Town can use it for crisis communications, hosting virtual meetings and moving Town Hall operations online.

The “New Normal”

Winthrop Board of Health member Meredith Hurley predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic would forever change the way the community approaches public health and safety long after the immediate threat is over.

“Talking about pandemic and infectious disease safety is going to be our new normal,” she said. “We’re going to see a lot of safety protocols going into place. We’re going to be looking at the world differently.”

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