Browne

John Browne

McAlester Mayor John Browne proclaimed a state of emergency for the city in response to the global coronavirus pandemic — and city councilors approved three resolutions to prepare for when the first positive case is reported.

Browne and the council approved measures during Tuesday night’s emergency meeting to provide relief for city utility customers, encourage prevention techniques and prepare for increased emergency spending in response to a potential COVID-19 outbreak. Oklahoma’s state health department reported 29 confirmed COVID-19 cases and none in Pittsburg County as of Wednesday afternoon.

The McAlester mayor urged citizens not to panic, but to work together in preventing spread of the virus.

“We’re going through a very difficult time and it’s going to be hard on people, but the people of McAlester are great people and there’s so many people that have stepped up to help others already,” Browne said. “Just keep in mind that we will get through this and how we do that is up to us.”

The state of emergency went into effect 5:30 p.m. March 17 and noted all city public facilities were closed and programs canceled until April 5, 2020.

Browne’s proclamation calls on businesses and private entities to consider discouraging in-person gatherings and urges citizens to follow guidelines from the OSDH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He said the city will follow state and federal guidelines, as well as advice from the Pittsburg County Emergency Response Team during the outbreak.

“If we get a positive confirmed case in Pittsburg County, we will be deferring a lot of the action to the Pittsburg County Emergency Response Team and the Health Department,” Browne said. “They will advise us what to do and we would be foolish not to follow their advice.”

Councilors at Tuesday’s emergency meeting approved three proactive resolutions including:

1) authorize City Manager Pete Stasiak to use the emergency fund to insulate general fund programs to cover revenue shortfalls of revenues and monthly expenditures up to $500,000;

2) increase until June 30, 2020 the city manager’s expenditure amount from $25,000 to $50,000 before requiring a council vote; and

3) provide relief for city utility customers financially impacted by the coronavirus outbreak by suspending the 10-day cutoff policy for services until July 1, 2020.

Browne said the city is limiting contact between employees and the public to prevent potential spread of the virus — but “anybody paying fines” can use payment kiosks, online payments as available, and calling city hall.

He encouraged citizens to practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from anyone), wash or sanitize hands before and after touching highly touched surfaces, and follow other CDC guidelines to prevent community spread of the virus.

Browne said the city is implementing remote work policies for employees and encouraged citizens to stay updated without panicking in the rapidly changing situation.

“We want people to be aware and concerned but we don’t want people making rash decisions,” Browne said.

City councilors are set to meet again at 6 p.m. March 24 for a regular meeting. City staff is currently researching the best way for the meetings to remain open and transparent while protecting the members of the council and public.

More information is available at the city’s website at www.cityofmcalester.com and on the City of McAlester, OK – Government Facebook page.

Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com

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